A Tale of Two Candidates (x2)

Huttle and Lassiter

If you’re thirsty for NJ political content over a long weekend, this is for you.

Part 1 covers the race to replace Loretta Senator Weinberg. Part 2 is about gay marriage, never properly legalized in NJ.

Huttle v Johnson

I’ve always been fond of Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, an affable Democratic lawmaker from Englewood in Bergen County. He gives off a “cool uncle” vibe that’s just appealing to be around.

Mr. Johnson is currently running for Senate in NJ’s 37th legislative district. He wants to replace outgoing Senator Loretta Weinberg who’s retiring at the end of her term.

Johnson’s longtime running-mate Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle is also running for Sen. Weinberg’s seat. That sets up a mouth-watering showdown between two credible and well-regarded candidates with similar voting records coveting the same seat.

Bergen Democrats meet next month to award the “party line” to whoever committee members pick to replace Weinberg. Premium ballot placement, by design, almost always ensures victory in NJ. And by all indications it’s Gordon Johnson, and not Valerie Huttle, who’ll end up with the coveted line.

Valerie Huttle (see pic Equality Ball 2019) is prepared to run off the line and to take her case directly to the voters of Bergen County in June’s primary. It won’t be easy. But that’s nothing new to Valerie Huttle who, like most women in NJ politics, is used to doing things the hard way.

In a race between two candidates with similar voting records, it can be difficult to draw distinctions. But maybe not this time.

Because Teaneck NJ, population 40,000, is one of the largest and most influential towns in the districts, last week’s municipal Dems meeting felt like something candidates coveting a promotion should take seriously.

Valerie Huttle did just that delivering a fully-engaged 20 minute pitch why she deserves to be her party’s nomination. It was a stark contrast to Mr. Johnson who came off unprepared and disengaged when he  (finally) arrived to the Zoom meeting.

And that gets me back to the “cool uncle metaphor” from before. When you’ve got a magnetic personality like Gordon Johnson, you can get away with being distracted on the Zoom or slightly unprepared for the hearing.

And while Gordon Johnson is happy to vote with the team, it’s Valerie Huttle who logged the long hours with advocates for years and months in advance to actually shape the bills being voted on. We’re taking core tenants here such as abortion rights, LGBTQ stuff, and criminal justice reform here.

Senator Loretta Weinberg is a giant of NJ politics who has oozed gravitas for decades. Valerie Huttle is one of the most diligent, well-prepared, hard-working people in Trenton.

Bergen Democrats aren’t electing a cool uncle and should value preparation over personality when they pick a new Senator.

Here comes the Brides

Despite the joyous fact that gays and lesbians in NJ have been getting married for while already, the NJ legislature never actually legalized gay marriage back in the day. Go figure.

When I learned that Senator Loretta Weinberg and Senate president Steven Sweeney sponsored legislation to codify gay marriage into NJ law, I was surprised because I thought we already did that.

But we didn’t.

Debra Guston is one of NJ’s top family lawyers and #44 on last year’s InsiderNJ OUT 100 Power List.

“New Jersey does not have marriage equality as a right under our statutes,” Ms. Guston told InsiderNJ. “Our state right to marriage equality is by virtue of a lower court decision that stands because the state withdrew its appeal. This is the time to enshrine in our statutes the rights of same-sex couples to marry to make it harder for any court to interfere with those rights here in New Jersey.”


Several members of the conservative-led US Supreme Court have already expressed intent to claw back LGBTQ rights in the US. A proper gay marriage law protects gay couples in NJ from any national-level legal fluctuations, explains Tom Prol, the first gay president of the NJ Bar.

“The proposed law will have a monumental impact that cuts across many areas including the obvious understanding of family law,” Mr. Prol told InsiderNJ. “Court decisions can be reversed or overturned subject to the determination of judges and justices. This proposed law cements marriage equality and the rights of committed same-sex couples and their families as a fixture in the Garden State’s statutory law books.”

Not only will this legislation protect LGBTQ people from the whims of activist judges, but revisiting this debate also means New Jersey republicans can atone for their multiple votes against gay marriage in the past.

NJ Senator Gerry Cardinale cemented his reputation as Trenton’s Jolly Old Crank during the marriage equality battle. From his Judiciary Committee perch, Senator Cardinale hurled invective and insults at any gay person who came to testify before him. I can scarcely recall a more undisciplined and mean-spirited performance in Trenton than Gerry Cardinale during the marriage equality debate circa 2009-2011. Looking back, if Cardinale’s anti-gay mean-streak was designed to be hurtful then he succeeded.  I was there. It was hurtful.

It’s an election year in NJ and Cardinale is currently being challenged by Holly Schepisi, a gay-friendly moderate who’s hungry for Cardinale’s Senate seat.

Game on.

Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer and podcaster based in Cherry Hill, NJ. He’s on Twitter @Jay_Lass.



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  • Tim Eustace

    Thanks Jay, The legislation is long overdue. Unfortunately there are no openly LGBTQ legislators to help push.

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