The Democratic Party establishment is in position to reward a politically hyperactive successor from Union County. The muscle of Middlesex County (six votes) has given the necessary votes to state Senator Nick Scutari, with the help of South Jersey, Hudson, Union, and Monmouth, to be the next senate president.
The other “players” in the county party constellation trickled in when the math gave them no movement.
In line for a two-year term as senate president, Scutari is the Union County Democratic Chairman and the sitting Judiciary Chairman, known among insiders for riding in a Crocodile Dundee-style limo (pictured) to political events. He was the person most responsible in the Legislature for detailing New Jersey’s legalization of marijuana.
He has strong business ties in the public sector.
As part of the deal:
Brian Stack gets Judiciary Chair;
Teresa Ruiz Majority Leader;
Paul Sarlo Budget Chairman.
The senator the party establishment wants to back has spent months locked in a legal battle locally in his hometown of Linden.
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari’s alleged no-show job as Linden’s municipal prosecutor — first revealed in a 2019 audit — likely allowed him to collect years of pension credits for which he was ineligible and could expose him to potential criminal prosecution, an investigative report obtained by the USA Today Network New Jersey shows.
The 59-page report, prepared for Linden by law firm Calcagni & Kanefsky, accuses Scutari of “serial absenteeism” during his last five years as prosecutor. It also says the powerful Union County Democrat cost Linden nearly $200,000 and compares his actions to those of Wayne Bryant, the former state senator found guilty in 2008 of illegally padding his pension with a no-show job.
Scutari also has a volatile temper in public, as his colleagues found out when he screamed in the chamber at state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28). “You haven’t done a thing for the communities we represent. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. …You haven’t done a thing for your community.”
The two had a prior collision.
Senator Ronald Rice (D-28) and Senator Nick Scutari (D-22) had to be separated in the caucus room on Thursday after the two men intensified their public spat over marijuana decriminalization.
Scutari apparently believes decriminalization interferes with his goal – legalization – while Rice maintains that Scutari is denying justice for people on the street right now in favor of personally reaping legal benefits as a consequence of legalization.
Senator Troy Singleton (D-7) pulled Rice away from Scutari after the two men went nose-to-nose.
The senators exchanged words at close range.
They amounted to the following:
“Why do you continue to hold the bill down?” the senator from Newark wanted to know.
Rice’s bill was interfering with what Scutari is trying to accomplish, the Union County senator shot back.
There’s bad blood there, and Scutari reminded Rice of that fact.
Scutari has the back story of a party veteran.
A tough kid from Linden, he willed his way to power, starting as a member of the Linden School Board, then spearheading Democratic efforts to turn a freeholder board that was 6-3 Republican to Democrat when he ran countywide in the late 1990s to 6-3 Democrat. Ask people in Linden who was the chief lieutenant on the ground in the Democratic retaking of control in Union and they’ll point to Scutari, a protégé of the late Linden Mayor John Gregorio.
Political animal Senator Joe Suliga – so hyperactive not only as a politician but as a businessman that Union sources still talk about the armies of his ice cream trucks driven by Suliga employees – cracked up in Atlantic City in 2003, his actions prompting party leaders, among them Senator Dick Codey, to hit the eject button and look for an alternative to a guy who allegedly had a sexual harassment entanglement.
Linda Stender of Fanwood was the easy replacement.
A forceful way to turn the page on Suliga.
But Scutari had other plans.
By that point seven years on the freeholder board, the ambitious young attorney went to Gregorio and those clotheslined Lindenites looking to rebuild in the wake of Suliga’s shocking meltdown, and told them the senate seat would stay in Linden, that town with the biggest Democratic plurality in the 22nd District.
Scutari wanted senator, not assembly.
Stender dug in, with the state party behind her.
But Scutari solidified Linden, then got the late Al McWilliams behind him in Plainfield and Rick Proctor in Rahway (long before these troubles), and suffocated the suburban-footed Stender.
He beat Scotch Plains Mayor Marty Marks for the senate seat and began an ascent that put him on a 2016 short-list to succeed Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) if Sweeney became governor or returned, and defined himself as a caucus leader with his chairmanship of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.
Suliga died in a 2005 traffic accident.
For 14 years, Scutari managed to get along with Lesniak, enjoyed the muscle flexing that all of them did for a decade, and stayed out of the fray as Cryan’s war footing with the senator began to harden over the course of the past five years.
When Lesniak retired, Cryan’s people more or less figured Scutari would yield to the new boss, as they offloaded the last vestiges of Lesniak world. But Scutari, hounded for years by a mangled Linden politics, secured control of his town and refused to stand down. His allies point to him as the guy who helped secure the senate seat for Cryan, which Cryan’s people deride as folly.
Absent the late powerful Union County Democratic Party Chair Charlotte DeFilppo of Hillsdie, and with a chair installed power in the late Assemblyman Jerry Green who was close to slate mate Scutari but lacked the on-the-ground power he claimed once in his home city of Plainfield, someone had to be the man.