Irvington Council President Renee Burgess has won an uncontested special election convention for the 28th district’s seat in the State Senate, making her the first senator in history to hail from Irvington. She’ll succeed former State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark), who departed the legislature for health reasons last month after 36 years in the Senate.
Burgess, 51, was nominated both to immediately replace Rice and to run in a special election this November in back-to-back voice votes.
Leading up to today’s convention, it was an open question whether Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark), who has represented the 28th legislative district since 2008, would try to challenge Burgess. Tucker has made it clear that she wants to serve in the Senate, and she had the backing of both Rice and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who wanted the seat to be held by a Newark politician.
But evidently recognizing that she wouldn’t have had enough votes to win, Tucker did not end up running. Over the last week, Burgess locked up support from Democrats in Irvington and Bloomfield, and also received key endorsements from Gov. Phil Murphy, Democratic State Chairman/Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones Jr., Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, and Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark).
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley) withdrew himself from contention for the seat early on, saying that the majority-minority district should be represented by a person of color – ideally Tucker.
There was some thought that Newark county committee members might simply not show up to the meeting, thus potentially denying a quorum. And indeed, attendance from Newark was noticeably sparser than from the district’s other communities, but it wasn’t enough to put a wrench in the proceedings.
At the convention, Burgess was nominated by Newark South Ward Councilman Pat Council in an unscripted moment that seemed to catch Jones, who was running the event, by surprise. After Council made the nomination, Jones called Irvington Democratic Chairwoman Basseemah Beasley to also make the nomination, which was seconded by an array of Democratic figures from around the district.
Burgess will likely be sworn in sometime later this month, and she’ll face voters for the first time this November in a special election held concurrently with the 2022 midterm elections. Given that the 28th district is one of the state’s most Democratic, there’s virtually no chance she’ll lose.
Come 2023, Burgess will run in a substantially redrawn seat that replaces Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, and Nutley with South Orange, Maplewood, and Hillside. That means Caputo will switch to the 34th district, while 27th district Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-South Orange) will be the new 28th district’s third representative.
It’s possible Baraka will try to dislodge Burgess in the 2023 Democratic primary, but that would carry great political risk for the possible future gubernatorial candidate. Assuming Burgess, Tucker, and Jasey all run and win again, the 28th district would be one of two statewide to have an all-female delegation, the other being the neighboring 29th district.
Burgess enters the Senate with about 19 years of experience in public office as a school board member and councilwoman.