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

Cunningham likely to return home after extended hospital stay

Court hearing on Hudson senator’ guardianship postponed until next year

By David Wildstein, December 14 2022 1:15 pm

Senate President Pro-Tempore Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) is expected to return to her home before Christmas, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

The five-term lawmaker has been hospitalized since October 4 at the Jersey City Medical Center, where she was taken by ambulance for a non-life threating health emergency.

Hudson County Assignment Judge Jeffrey Jablonski has appointed Matthew Burns, a Jersey City attorney, as Cunningham’s legal guardian.  Cunningham is seeking to replace him with Lori McNeely, an attorney from Princeton who specializes in guardianship.

A court hearing to discuss Cunningham’s  guardianship issues that was scheduled for December 19 has been postponed until early next year.  Jablonski has issued an order sealing the court records, the New Jersey Globe has confirmed.  Cunningham has been dealing with cognititive health issues.

Still unresolved are Cunningham’s capacity to make major decisions, including the resignation of her 31st district State Senate seat.   There is virtually no scenario by which she seeks re-election next year, some allies and Democratic Party leaders have privately acknowledged.

A press conference originally scheduled for today by former Gov. James E. McGreevey, a close Cunningham friend, was cancelled as a result of constructive developments in the status of Cunningham’s care.

Cunningham, 72, has not been in Trenton since the passage of the state budget at the end of June.  She missed confirmation votes for a new state attorney general and two associate justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

She sought to participate remotely in a Senate session on September 29.  Cunningham was recorded as a present vote in quorum call, but the Secretary of the Senate later changed the record to reflect that she was not present after Senate officers read a letter from Cunningham’s physician.

John Minella, the chief of staff to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, has emerged as a leading candidate to complete the remainder of Cunningham’s term, which expires on January 11, 2024 – if the senator resigns, sources have told the New Jersey Globe.  Minella would be a caretaker and not run for a full four-year term in 2023.

The Democratic candidate to replace Cunningham in the 31st legislative district has still not been determined, although Fulop will ultimately decide who gets the Hudson County Democratic organization line.   Possible candidates include Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City), and two Hudson County Commissioners from Jersey City: Bill O’Dea and Jerry Walker.

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