Home>Feature>Cunningham signs off on Hudson judicial nominee after Senate Democrats deem her competent to do so

State Sen. Sandra Cunningham. Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe

Cunningham signs off on Hudson judicial nominee after Senate Democrats deem her competent to do so

Five-term senator with cognitive health issues still not expected to return to Trenton, although resignation now appears less likely

By David Wildstein, February 23 2023 9:29 am

A New Jersey state senator with declining cognitive health issues who has not been in Trenton for almost eight months has resumed at least one of her official responsibilities: senatorial courtesy.

Senate President Pro-Tempore Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) has signed off on a Hudson County woman’s nomination to serve as a Superior Court Judge so that Susanne Lavelle could appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

A Senate Democratic leader recently met with Cunningham at her Jersey City home and emerged with the belief that she was competent to make signoff decisions.  But Cunningham did not meet Lavelle personally and consented to her nomination without conducting an interview, which is unusual for in-county judicial nominees but not uncommon if the request comes directly from a colleague.

“She seemed good,” the leader said.

According to personal friends who visited her, Cunningham has good and bad days.

Cunningham was taken to Jersey City Medical Center by ambulance on October 4 for a non-life-threatening health emergency and was hospitalized until returning home around Christmas.   Healthcare professionals and friends are with her 24/7.

Still,  there are low expectations that she will return to Trenton before her term ends on January 9, 2024.  She could seek to vote remotely due to her health issues but has not requested to do so.

Cunningham is not planning to seek re-election to the 31st district Senate seat she first won in 2007, although it’s unclear if she will issue a retirement announcement or not file petitions before the March 27 filing deadline.

An early departure from the Senate and an interim replacement appointment seemed inevitable a few months ago.  Now Cunningham appears more likely to finish her term and retain her state health insurance quietly.

A Superior Court judge had placed Jersey City attorney Matthew Burns in charge of Cunningham’s personal affairs since the five-term senator could no longer manage them herself.

In contrast to U.S. Senator John Fetterman’s staff issuing public statements regarding his health, there has been no official word from Cunningham’s office regarding her health.  The public has only seen photos of her with local political leaders posted on social media and a holiday message she taped with the assistance of a friend that was also posted on social media.

Cunningham was recorded as a present vote in the quorum call.  Still, the Secretary of the Senate later changed the record to reflect that she was absent after Senate officers read a letter from Cunningham’s physician. On September 29, she attempted to participate remotely in a Senate session where Matt Platkin was up for confirmation as attorney general.

When Cunningham’s bill to set guidelines on purchasing catalytic converters was approved by the Senate on October 17, she was not present to vote.  Despite her diminished capacities, a press release after the bill passed included a quote from Cunningham.  Since then, no additional statements have been issued under her name.

As Senate President Pro-Tempore, Cunningham is sixth in the line of succession to the governorship.

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