Perspective and Personalities: Two Things that Shape Trenton

After this past election, there has been a lot of hand wringing over the fate of the Republican Party in New Jersey given that both houses of the legislature and the governorship are in the hands of Democrats. Politics, like most things in life, has a history, and so for those in our business who suffer from memory loss, I offer the below composition of the legislature in the last 4 decades and what it’ll be next year:

1978:

Senate: 27 Dem – 13 Rep

Assembly: 54 Dem – 26 Rep

Governor: Democrat Brendan Byrne

1988:

Senate: 24 Dem – 16 Rep

Assembly: 38 Dem – 42 Rep

Governor: Republican Tom Kean

1998:

Senate: 24 Rep – 16 Dem

Assembly: 48 Rep – 32 Dem

Governor: Republican Christie Whitman

2008:

Senate: 23 Dem – 17 Rep

Assembly: 48 Dem – 32 Rep

Governor: Democrat Jon Corzine

2018:

Senate: 25 Dem – 15 Rep

Assembly: 54 Dem – 26 Rep

Governor: Democrat Phil Murphy

While each legislative session is defined by the policies they implement, or don’t, let’s not forget that the personalities of individual legislators play a big role in the effectiveness of the body. During my time as a legislative aide and legislator I have seen my share of the very best, the worst and the odd or unusual. Below are some of the more memorable members of the legislature in recent memory. I will try my best not to comment on current legislators.

Memorable Senators:

William Gormley (1982 – 2007): His hands and mouth tried to move almost as fast as his brain when he was in the zone, usually his pace blew the casual observer out of the water. He was and is fluent in the foreign languages of EDA, CREDA and CCC – all things Atlantic City

Philip Haines (2008 – 2010): Simply one of the nicest in the business – quintessential country legislator

Dana Redd (2008 – 2010): Thoughtful and serious-minded – a real doer who will be missed as Mayor of Camden, just as we missed her in the Senate

John Adler (1992 – 2009): Perhaps one of the most gifted legislators – smart, witty and balanced

Sharpe James (1999 – 2008): Can aggregate political power with the best (see Prudential Center)

Leonard Lance (2002 – 2009): What the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote about citizen legislators – top of the class in public policy

John Lynch (1982 – 2002) & John Russo (1974 – 1992): These two would both qualify to be the modern day LBJ in our State Senate – masters of their universe

Walter Kavanaugh (1998 – 2008): No one navigated the budget process and its arcane rules better

Wynona Lipman (1972 – 1999): An elegant and special legislator from Newark who never forgot she was here to help the underprivileged and underserved.

Memorable Assemblymembers:

Frank Blee (1995 – 2008): Quiet solider who was point person on Atlantic City, marine life and budgets

Richard Bagger (1994 – 2002): The most budget savvy legislator who always quietly understood the politics

Rose Heck (1991 – 2004): You want Rose with you when engaged in Trenton warfare – she never shied away from a fight

Joe Malone (1993 – 2012): Budget genius and Good Will Ambassador to all – one of the most well-liked people in Trenton, still to this day

John Kelly (1982 – 1984, 1986 – 2002): Tough as nails Irishman who told it like it was, always got to the meat of the issue and didn’t suffer from political correctness

James Zangari (1980 – 1996): Funny and irreverent but a very tough street fighter for and from Newark

Wilfredo Caraballo (1996 – 2008): A smart, articulate and shrewd politician who lost sight of one of the cardinal rules of politics: always protect home base

Joan Quigley (1994 – 2012): Broke through the good old boys club in Hudson with her smarts, sense of humor and political timing

Louis Romano (1991 – 2012): A political gamer who was quick on his feet and moved with the ebbs and flows of any issue; also, the best opera singer on the floor of the Assembly

Carol Murphy (1992 – 2001): As tough as they come; a skilled no nonsense conference leader who could corral all the cats

Nia Gill (1994 – 2002): Soaring rhetoric and precise inquisitions give Nia a commanding presence every time she rises to her feet

Jack Collins (1984 – 2002): A truly powerful Speaker who charmed everyone with his sheer intelligence and country manner – one of the best ever

Alan Karcher (1974 – 1990): He possessed a rare intellect that was truly a gift and combined that with a booming voice that reverberated throughout the Assembly Chamber; first time I heard the word draconian used in Trenton was by Alan Karcher

Joseph Cryan (2002 – 2015): If Machiavelli wrote the book “The Prince” today, it’d be modeled after Joe

Joseph Doria (Assembly: 1980 – 2004; Senate: 2004 – 2007): One of the most honest legislators to ever walk the halls, when Joe gave his word you could take it to the bank. Unfortunately for Joe (Speaker in waiting), on DAY ONE of the life and times of Governor McGreevey, he got toe tagged and body bagged

Joseph Roberts (1987 – 2010): Underneath his “I’m just a country legislator from South Jersey” veneer was a shrewd and sharp elbowed politician who took no prisoners; he will forever be remembered for showing North Jersey pols that the borders of New Jersey don’t stop at the bottom of the Driscoll Bridge

Connie Myers (1996 – 2006): Other than not getting along with fellow members and how she treated her staff (BADLY), Connie deserves credit for actually caring and reading not just every bill comment but every bill – line-for-line

As you can see from the list above, personalities play a big role in the legislature, and the success or failure of a governor can rest largely on whether those personalities have been cultivated to forge relationships. Just as members of the legislature try and play to the strengths and weaknesses of a governor, I suspect, the incoming governor will do the same with legislators. As personalities shape who we are as individuals and legislators, I think it is safe to assume that this legislature, if left to their personalities, will chart its own independent course.

If current events are any indication, one party control doesn’t mean personalities will take a backseat, and this just the beginning…stay tuned…

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