Fifteen years after leaving office, former Assemblyman Craig Stanley is gunning for a comeback.
The 67-year-old Stanley, a Democrat who represented the Newark-based 28th legislative district between 1996 and 2008, filed today to run for the Assembly in the suburban 27th district. He’ll aim to succeed Assemblyman Tom Giblin (D-Montclair), who announced just this weekend that he was retiring.
“I just felt a very strong calling to run right now,” Stanley told the New Jersey Globe. “There are a lot of things going on right now that need to be changed. One of them is getting more input from the people about their government, and another is bringing people together.”
Stanley’s comeback campaign puts him on a collision course with two different slates already running in the 27th district: one helmed by State Sen./former Gov. Richard Codey (D-Roseland), the other led by State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair).
Codey and Gill, both longtime senators, were double-bunked on the state’s new legislative map, and it was Codey who got party backing for re-election. He’ll run with incumbent Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange) and public affairs executive Alixon Collazos – Giblin’s last-minute replacement – while Gill recruited two former school board members, Frank Kasper and Eve Robinson, to run alongside her.
Stanley said that he talked to party leaders in Essex County about getting support for his campaign, but he was rebuffed.
“There wasn’t a very warm reception,” he said. “When I was in office the first time, I was somewhat of a maverick. I spent 12 years here, but they weren’t a smooth 12 years.”
Stanley isn’t aligned with any other candidates, though he made it clear that he was running for the open seat, indicating that his campaign will focus on Collazos and not McKeon. He’ll have to do quite a bit of work to introduce himself in the new 27th district, none of which he represented during his time in the Assembly.
The nephew of the late Rep. Donald Payne Sr. (D-Newark), Stanley was first elected to the 28th district in 1995, after incumbent Assemblymen Harry McEnroe (D-South Orange) and James Zangari (D-Irvington) lost party support for re-election.
He spent 12 years in the legislature, during which time he focused on issues like reparations and the Amistad Commission, African American history-focused commission which he helped to found; he also served as the chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.
In 2007, Stanley found himself kicked off the party line, one victim of a broader factional fight among Essex County Democrats. He continued his campaign anyways and nearly won, losing by 127 votes to now-Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark), who was one of the party-backed candidates. (Now-Assemblyman Ralph Caputo came in first.)
Stanley ran again to regain his seat in 2009, but fell well short. He’s also run multiple campaigns for mayor of Irvington, where he lived until recently: one in 2002 which lost, and another in 2018 which he abandoned before making it to the ballot.
Since then, Stanley has moved to West Orange and started teaching political science at Essex County College. But he said that things in the United States have not gone in the right direction since he left the Assembly, prompting his new campaign.
“We see a lot of things being turned back, people trying to turn back the clock,” Stanley said. “We shouldn’t be seeing that. We shouldn’t be going backwards, we should be moving forwards.”