Who’s Up and Who’s Down?


The 2023 elections in New Jersey were characterized by a relatively quiet landscape with a few notable, critical battlegrounds occupying the bulk analysts’ attention this year.  What was at stake, with no gubernatorial or presidential item dominating the top of New Jerseyans’ tickets, was the control of the state legislature as well as county and local contests.  Without the disproportionate weight and influence of a top-tier executive figure, each race was, in essence, a purely organic expression of their own campaigns from messaging, image, and of course, their get-out-the-vote efforts.  Below is an Insider NJ “Who’s Up, Who’s Down” following the 2023 Election Day aftermath.


State Senator Vin Gopal – The incumbent state senator from LD-11 could celebrate coming out the victor in one of the most closely-watched races in the state.  The Monmouth County-centric battle pitted Gopal, a Millennial Democrat with two Republican assemblymembers in LD-11, against challenger Steve Dnistrian. Dnistrian, allied with the incumbents, squared off against Gopal who was bracketed with two Democratic assembly challengers, Luanne Peterpaul and Margie Donlon.  The campaigns exchanged volleys over culture war and offshore wind.  Dnistrian tried to characterize Gopal as an extension of Governor Murphy and blast the two as one-and-the-same.  All eyes were turned to LD-11 to see whether or not the incumbent would stand in the forwardmost salient of Chairman Leroy Jones’ trenches, where South Jersey had been largely given up as No Man’s Land for the Democratic Party.  However, Gopal not only held, but swept.  The incumbent state senator not only saw a landslide margin for his own re-election, but the jettisoning of Republican assemblymembers Marilyn Piperno and Kim Eulner, flipping the purple representation in Trenton to blue with Senate President Scutari going so far as to say LD-11 was no longer a “competitive” district. 


State Senator Ed Durr – A flash in the pan exception in an otherwise monolithic South Jersey machine?  In many ways, the election of Ed Durr represented a triumph of the common man over the connected and powerful elite.  It was a blow to political fat-cats and a reminder to average voters that, yes, sometimes, when the planets align and the gatekeepers look the other way, politics is still “of” the people as much as “by” the people, even if there remains dangerous doubt how much of New Jersey politics is “for” the people.  The Republican non-union truck driver toppled Senate President Steve Sweeney, who had come out on top in the past amid hugely expensive campaign battles with the NJEA.  A Norcross partner, Norcross’ most powerful political ally in the state brought the Camden kingmaker and Murphy rival undue power and influence to his South Jersey network.  Ed Durr, with a shoestring budget, brought down that empire of Democratic self-confidence.  However, the Democratic machine, stunned by its defeat and realizing that voters cannot be taken for granted, roared back and reminded voters what they stood for against MAGA-aligned culture warriors.  The voters responded in turn, having been satisfied that Norcross’ hubris had been justly punished.  Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli seems to have avenged the ironworker and put an end to Durr’s single term in office.   


LD-4 Democrats – It is no state secret that South Jersey Democrats were hung out to dry with the re-districting process, territory written off to consolidate and solidify positions in the north.  None felt those pangs more strongly than Congressman Tom Malinowski in CD-7, but the LD-4 contest was one for the Democrats to make or break.  When State Senator Fred Madden announced his retirement, he wrapped up almost 2 decades in office, leaving the seat open.  Additionally, Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera would also not seek re-election.  The field was fresh turf for new faces to capture and Democrats wanted to maintain control.  A bitter, and at times bizarre, melee marred the LD-4 contest, where Assemblyman Paul Moriarity sought to succeed Madden, contested by Republican Chris Del Borrello, a councilman from Washington Township, and his GOP Assembly ticket of Amanda Esposito and Matt Walker, a past councilman from Buena.  LD-4 was a slugfest but, as in LD-3, South Jersey Democrats prevailed. 


George Norcross – The controversial South Jersey Democratic insurance baron announced that he stepped back from politics.  Steve Sweeney would not run against Durr again.  Jones, Scutari, and Coughlin had shrugged as far as South Jersey powerbrokers were concerned—the power had been shifted into the North/Central Jersey axis with some sacrifice to Republicans.  Then what happened?  Democrats ousted Durr with Burzichelli and dug in to hold LD-4, demonstrating that Democratic victories were possible in a post-Norcross landscape.  To what extent Norcross will remain influential behind-the-scenes, or even if his retirement will be permanent, however, remains to be seen.  A Norcross resurrection might be possible if we see a Sweeney comeback with an eye for the governor’s seat now that Governor Phil Murphy, staunch Norcross opponent and unquestionably the victor in their rivalry, is on his way out.  The other question would be, which Democrats would want to hitch themselves to Team Norcross, should it rise from the dead?  After all, success is possible and Murphy leaves with electoral laurels—the first Democrat double-term governor since Brendan Byrne. 


Senator Tony Bucco – “It’s time to make the donuts,” one could say about incumbent Republican Senator Tony Bucco.  After having vanquished a spirited Democratic challenge from Christine Clarke, the race was nevertheless close.  Boonton-based Bucco returns to office with 26,205 votes to Clarke’s 22,542 while incumbent Aura Dunn and Barranco beat their Democratic challengers of Salvator and Torres with similar margins.  Bucco maintains the dynastic power in LD-25, a district his late father represented in Trenton from 1995 to his passing in September of 2019. 


LD-38 Republicans – With Paramus as the home-turf of both incumbent Senator Joseph Lagana and his Republican challenger, Micheline Attieh, the redistricted LD-38 was a hot contest to watch. With Paramus reddened, LD-38 was a potential victory for Republicans if they could capitalize on discontent regarding school curricula and the topic of parental rights with respect to students, rising cost of living, COVID-era policy criticism, and taxation.  Lagana, joined with incumbents Lisa Swain and Chris Tully in the Assembly, focused their attention on promoting their name into the new communities of the district, taking a stand on women’s reproductive rights in the aftermath of the reversal of Roe v. Wade, children’s mental health, and senior tax perks, jumping on the as-yet-to-be-implemented StayNJ program.  In the end, the incumbents outdueled their challengers, sticking to the general script of New Jersey Democratic messaging.  Their win was no landslide, but enough fell down around the Republicans to bury their very realistic endeavor of flipping LD-38 red. 


Rabbi Alexander “Avi” Schnall – Cracking through District 30, which has been a solid Republican stronghold for some thirty years, Schnall managed to dislodge incumbent Republican Assemblyman Ned Thomson, although fellow Democratic Assembly candidate Salvatore Frascino came up as a distant fourth in the 2-on-2 contest.  Schnall will go to Trenton with Republican Assemblyman Sean Kean and Republican State Senator Robert Singer, both of whom captured huge margins in their victories.  The election of Schnall is a demonstration of the power of the Orthodox Jewish community, where Lakewood turned out the vote en masse to see more Jewish representation in Trenton.  This is especially notable as the Israel-Hamas War, which began when Hamas terrorists attacked Israelis on October 7 and precipitated a massive retaliation from the IDF on Gaza, has polarized large segments of the American population on Israel’s right to self-defense and the suffering of Palestinians trapped in the brutal conflict.  Rising anti-Semitism in the state predates the Israel-Hamas War, but today, combined with pro-Palestinian demonstrations held in New Jersey, the public face of Jewish security, places of worship, and political representation, sends a message that Jewish leaders are undaunted and enjoy mobilized popular support.  


Bergen County GOP – The Bergen County Republican Organization had a win, but one with a needless black eye.  As it turns out, running a candidate like Joseph Viso, who has a long and troubled history of legal problems—not the least of which was an Obama-era charge of smearing human fecal matter on the door of an East Rutherford daycare center—is not a good idea.  Incumbent State Senator Holly Schepisi, incumbent Assemblyman Robert Auth, and John V. Azzariti carried the day to victory, maintaining Bergen Republican power, but Bergen’s GOP victory was dented not by losing to strong incumbents Sarlo, Calabrese, and Schaer, but because someone like Viso was not weeded out right from the start.  Viso has publicly said that he regrets his past actions, but Craig Auriemma’s association with Viso may be a politically uncomfortable one for Auriemma going forward.  The Bergen County Republican Leadership Team, an organization formed of dissenting GOP figures in the county who are unhappy with the leadership of Jack Zisa, had even called upon GOP State Chairman Bob Hugin and Jose Arango to intervene in Bergen.  They asserted that the Bergen County Republican Organization was not “fulfilling their obligations of vetting candidates for elected office.”  On the electoral map, the Bergen battlelines are status quo ante bellum as far as LD-36 and LD-39 are concerned, so there was no great coup by Democrats, but BRLT complaints were not disproved, either.  It is one thing to lose in a healthy contest, but in the case of LD-36, it looks like victory was sabotaged from the outset. 


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2 responses to “Who’s Up and Who’s Down?”

  1. Come on now insider, history just repeated itself with 36 candidate Viso, just like when LD 38 chairman at the time (thank God resigned but part of the BLT monstrosity of cry babies) Arakelian, put up his own KKK candidate only to lose our stride in 38, which is still affected. So now they stuck their nose in and verbally attacked the new 38 Chair and divided their team once again, while trying to promote and bullet vote Hakim’s own family member for the senate seat while spewing their vitriol at Horton simply cuz she’s on the BCRO board, something The BLT minion Splinter Group was never invited to be on. Their scathing jealousy of Zisa, sent them all in a tizzy of destroying any candidates in their sight, just like they lost the gubernatorial last year for Jack and now easily put him on their hit list. Please don’t mention this group of Misfits as if they actually have any Hope For Real Republicans while they are incessantly and purposely, dividing while not conquering, the Republican Party while they actually allow Democrats on that page to attack Republicans and that my friends, is the true definition of a rino. You know the saying, Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…

  2. Let us not forget that when Israel was viciously attacked by Hamas, the Big Rat Lying Team tried to attack Zisa for pointing out a vigil at The JCC Center in Tenafly where a vigil for one of our own that was killed was being held, saying that it took away from their ‘Courthouse vigil of 5’ where Hakim was somehow preaching but yet did not denounce the Palestinians! I did not know that holding vigils for our tribe, was a contest, but the BRLT had the audacity to use this barbaric war, for sensationalizing themselves as martyrs. That, is completely unacceptable and deplorable. Using the war against Israel for promotion, is beyond reprehensible and anybody in this group, is also complicit.

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