My Life in New Jersey Politics: An Introduction

Kevin O'Toole, former senator from the 40th Legislative District, advises current and future politicians to have the courage to surround yourself with strong staff that are willing to stand up and tell you when you are wrong. Otherwise, they risk becoming disconnected from reality.


When I was first approached to write a bi-weekly column, my thought was—How do I do this without speaking ill of the dead or upsetting those who are still alive? Then I realized, that given my 30 plus years of public service as a legislative staffer, local councilmember, deputy mayor , mayor , chief of staff to a county executive, former assemblyman, former and current senator, 12 years as GOP county chairman and one of the top political fundraisers in the State, I had a lot to say and tell. Plus not being on the ballot in 2017 made it a lot easier.

So here it is:

I intend to take advantage of my experiences and draw upon many of these events to pull together what I hope to be a column worthy of your time. Let me be clear, I’m not a journalist and I don’t hold myself out as the best political brain or operative – I am simply this kid (52 years young) from little old Cedar Grove who lived his dream of being a state legislator (22 years), married the love of his life (true), have two perfectly well behaved teenage children (lie) and now practice law at my own firm.

As I am moving toward elective retirement and gear my life away from 29 years in office, I will talk about some life experiences, make some political observations and dispense what I hope will be really cool and topical opinions. In a nutshell, I hope this column will be equal part political Ann Landers and Charles Kuralt with a dash of Roger Stone (minus the Nixon tattoo).

In the weeks to come, I am planning to write about the following (no particular order):

1) What are the most important tools to get elected – money, organization and message. Former Congressman Bobby Franks was the ‘inventor’ of this model and no one was better at his craft.

2) The importance of networking because you never know what the future holds. Case in point, while working as a landscaper and pumping gas to pay for college at a gas station in Verona, one of my customers was John Graham – enough said. To our younger readers – you never know where life will take you and make friends with the smart kid in your class because one day you’ll be looking for that person to employ you.

4) What makes a top or effective lobbyist (hint, it looks exactly like Dale Florio).

5) People ask me all the time who is the best politician (hint, Brain Stack is unbeatable, and Chris Christie is the most accomplished {present poll numbers notwithstanding}).

6) Who is the best party leader and inside player

6) How do you make a judge, how do you become a judge, and how do you get tenure – since there is no test.

7) The balance in life between politics and family.

That’s a sampling of some of the things I want to touch upon, there will be other topics but you will have to return to see them.

Let me end my inaugural column with this, Dave Murray a wise political consultANT (emphasis added because that is how he speaks and those who know him know what I’m talking about) once told me that you can forecast a person’s future by looking at their past. I don’t even know how that fits in this column but think it is a really cool adage that I have adopted as my own and usually give no nod to the originator. Politics is such a wonderland; and I have seen careers made and broken on smart and stupid decision, some in a split second. Don’t let ambition govern your every decision, and understand that those individuals who achieve success in politics get the “joke” – that most things in politics are just an illusion.

When used properly, politics can help with so many of our societal problems, when abused it can exacerbate them.

After reading my columns, please take them in the manner in which they are intended, as a light-hearted (occasional scorched earth) way to share stories, experiences, and provide some historical perspective – because in politics everything and everyone has a history.


Kevin O’Toole is the state senator representing the 40th Legislative District.

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