Assembly Speaker Pro-Tempore Gordon Johnson has emerged a top candidate in the race to succeed Loretta Weinberg in the State Senate, setting up a possible convention fight with Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Multiple sources confirmed that Johnson, a nine-term assemblyman and decorated U.S. Army Reserve veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, has assembled strong support among key Bergen County Democrats to win the organization line in the June primary election.
Vainieri Huttle also has support among Bergen Democrats, who will hold a convention in March to pick Weinberg’s replacement.
Johnson, a close political ally of Weinberg, would become the first Black senator from Bergen County.
Weinberg said that she would not endorse a candidate prior to the convention.
Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who had strong support from key Bergen Democrats, has decide not to seek the Senate seat.
Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes has been eyeing the 37th district seat since 2007, when he and then-Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero had mulled a Demcoratic primary challenge to Weinberg.
Sources say that two Democratic senators from Bergen, Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) and Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus), will endorse Johnson.
The 71-year-old Johnson spent 24 years as an Englewood police officer and held a top post with the state PBA. He became Bergen County Undersheriff in 1999 and was the acting Sheriff in 2001 after Joseph Ciccone resigned in scandal that involved selling police badges for campaign contributions.
Johnson was elected to the State Assembly in 2001, after Democrats decided to back Assemblyman Ken Zisa for Sheriff. He defeated Bergenfield Councilman Robert Rivas in the Demcoratic primary by a more than 3-1 margin.
From 2006 to 2008, he also served as an Englewood city councilman.