Home>Highlight>Codey starts 49th year in N.J. legislature today

Richard J. Codey in 1980, during his fourth term in the New Jersey State Assembly. (Photo: Bill Saunders/David Wildstein Collection).

Codey starts 49th year in N.J. legislature today

Former governor was 26 when he won a State Assembly seat in 1973

By David Wildstein, January 11 2022 12:03 am

When Richard James Codey takes the oath of office at noon today, he will begin his 49th year in the New Jersey Legislature – a continuation of the record he’s held for the last eight years as the longest serving legislator in New Jersey history.

A former Senate President who served as Governor of New Jersey from November 2004 to January 2006, the 75-year-old Codey also holds the record as the state’s longest-serving Senator.

For a while a while, the record was held by Robert Littell, a Sussex County Republican who was elected to the Assembly in 1967 and to the Senate in 1990.   He served a total of 40 years in the legislature before his retirement after the 2007 election.  Codey took the record from Littell in January 2014 when he began his 41st year.

Littell took the record in May 1982 from the legendary William Vincent Musto, who served as an assemblyman from 1947 to 1966, the senate from 1966 until 1982 – he was in his 35th year in in Trenton when he was removed from office — and 16 years as the mayor of Union City.  Another New Jersey legend, Atlantic County Republican boss Frank “Hap” Farley, spent three years in the Assembly and 31 in the Senate losing his bid for re-election in 1971.

Gerald Cardinale, who died in office earlier this year at the start of his 42nd year in the legislature ranks second behind Codey in his total number of years of service.  Cardinale was elected to the Assembly in 1979 and to the Senate in 1981; he and Codey entered the Senate together in January 1982.

Codey also is tied for third as the state’s longest serving legislative leader.  He spent four years as Senate Minority Leader, two years as Co-Senate President, and six years as Senate President.  Republican Donald DiFrancesco was the Senate Minority Leader from 1982 to 1984 and the Senate President from 1992 to 2002.

The record for longest-serving legislative leader is fourteen years and the holders of that record will leave office today: Democrat Steve Sweeny was Senate Majority Leader from 2008 to 2010 and Senate President from 2020 to 2022; and Republican Thomas Kean, Jr. was Senate Minority Leader from 2008 to 2022.

Two Republicans, Chuck Haytaian and Jack Collins, are tied for fifth place.  Haytaian was Assembly Majority Leader from 1986 to 1990, Minority Leader from 1990 to 1992, and Speaker from 1992 to 1996.   Collins was Assembly Majority Leader from 1992 to 1996 and Speaker from 1996 to 2002 and is the fifth-longest serving legislative leader.

Following her resignation last week five days before the end of her term, Loretta Weinberg is now in seventh place.  She had served as Senate Majority Leader since 2012.

The Dick Codey story

Codey came from a politically active family – the Codey’s operated a funeral home — and launched his political career in 1968 as a 21-year-old candidate for a county committee seat in Orange.  He lost by four votes but came back to win the seat in 1969.

A protégé of Orange Mayor Nicholas Franco and an aide to State Sen. Frank “Pat” Dodd (D-West Orange), Codey was 26 when he first ran for the State Assembly in 1973.

That was the year New Jersey switched to a 40-district map after four cycles of attempting to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s One-Man, One-Vote decision through a series of unsuccessful apportionments that sought to avoid splitting county boundaries.

The new 26th district included East Orange, Orange, West Orange and a small part of Newark’s North Ward.  The district had two incumbents, both elected two years earlier: Dodd and Assemblyman Eldridge Hawkins (D-East Orange).    Hawkins’ running mate, Assemblyman Peter Stewart (D-Caldwell), who ousted two term Republican Assemblyman Kenneth Wilson (R-West Orange) in 1971, now lived in the next-door 27th.

Essex County Democratic Chairman Harry Lerner picked Codey to run for the open seat in a safe Democratic district, but he faced a primary challenge from George Minish, the son of Rep. Joseph Minish (D-West Orange), and two others.

Codey was the top vote-getter in the primary, running 105 votes ahead of Hawkins and 4,908 in front of Minish.    Republicans ran John Trezza, an Orange city commissioner who had lost an Assembly race to Stewart by just 13 votes in 1977, and Monroe Jay Lustbader, an attorney who would later serve as an Essex County freeholder and assemblyman.  Codey finished 2,180 votes ahead of Hawkins and beat Trezza by 16,304.

Except for Codey’s 1968 county committee race, he’s never lost an election, although some Democrats have tried to take him out.

When Dodd have up his State Senate seat to run for Governor in 1981, Codey ran to replace him. He won the Democratic primary with 55% of the vote against West Orange Councilwoman Gayle Rosen (33%) and Orange Councilman James Brown (12%).

Seeking a second term in 1983, Codey faced an expensive from Orange Mayor Joel Shain, who largely self-funded his nasty $300,000 campaign.   Codey won that primary by 4,125 votes – 63%-19% — with former Essex County Freeholder Russell Fox finishing third with 9% in a five-candidate field.

In 1991, Codey faced another Senate primary – this time from his onetime running mate, former Assemblywoman Mildred Barry Garvin (D-West Orange) .  A five-term legislator, Essex Democrats had dumped her from the organization line four years earlier.  Codey beat her 61%-39%.

Seeking a fifth term in the Senate in 1993, Codey was feuding with Essex County Executive Thomas D’Alessio, who was also the Democratic County Chairman.  D’Alessio dropped Codey from the organization line and ran Assemblyman Robert Brown, who was also the mayor of Orange, against him.

Codey formed his own ticket, and an alliance with East Orange Mayor Cardell Cooper – also on the outs with D’Alessio – and beat Brown by 4,885 votes (60%-40%).  Codey swept in his two running mates, LeRoy Jones and Nia Gill, against the D’Alessio slate.

Since then, Codey has easily vanquished any opponents.

Codey served as Senate Minority Leader for four years before Democrats picked up enough seats in the upper house to bring the Senate to a 20-20 tie in 2001.  Codey and Republican John O. Bennett III served as Co-Senate Presidents for two years before Democrats took control after the 2003 election and Codey became Senate President for six years.

He served as acting governor for 84 hours in January 2002, in between the time DiFrancesco left office and newly-elected James E. McGreevey was sworn in.

Following McGreevey’s resignation in 2004, Codey became the Governor of New Jersey.  He served from November 2004 until January 2006.  He later returned as acting governor for 25 days after Gov. Jon Corzine was seriously injured in a 2007 automobile accident.

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