Lesniak Comes out of His Chair at Governor’s Forum; Challenges Heckler

ATLANTIC CITY – A few weeks ago at a forum in New Brunswick, state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) was not at his best, and he acknowledged as much today after appearing in a far more animated condition at a gubernatorial forum moderated by InsiderNJ on Wednesday at the New Jersey Transaction Transportation Conference.

Lesniak was still in the throes of indecision about the statewide contest back then, he confessed, irritated after a closed door session late last year with Union County Democratic Chairman Jerry Green, who had decided to back former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy over Elizabeth native son Lesniak. That hurt, and subsequently the veteran state senator wrestled with the spiritual up and down sides of a quixotic charge statewide, with his staff collectively wringing their hands in Sancho Panzo-like fashion. As recently as last week, Lesniak, who hasn’t qualified for state matching funds from the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, privately contemplated the horror of running a pointless candidacy for governor.

But he concluded he had no choice but to run, the opinions of sideline observers be damned, and certified last Friday.

The first up at Wednesday’s gubernatorial forum, Lesniak appeared animated and charged up with the prospect of being able to talk about issues. He noted his longtime championing of casino gambling and sports betting, coming out of his chair and speaking directly to the big audience from the front of the stage.

When he noted his support for a single casino up north, someone in the crowd booed.

Lesniak immediately found the man in the crowd and chastised him, asking him what he had done to deserve that and asking why the critic hadn’t cheered through the long years of Lesniak’s advocacy for Atlantic City. Moments later, “I’m a fighter,” the senator exclaimed to the crowd, as explanation for his decision to challenge the heckler head on.

In response to an InsiderNJ question about the Gateway Tunnel project, in jeopardy right now as a consequence of the Trump Administration’s budget priorities, Lesniak said that as governor he would use a national security argument with Trump to make the case for the tunnel.



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