A coalition of Black leaders want a Black woman to replace State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City), who is facing significant cognitive health issues and is expected to resign before the end of her current term.
“Whoever is picked to replace Senator Cunningham—whether temporary or permanent—must be a Black woman,” the group, United Black Agenda, said in a statement. “This is one of the most diverse legislative districts in one of the most diverse states in the nation, and the district’s delegation in Trenton must reflect that, particularly given that the state legislature already fails to represent the rich diversity of the state.”
United Black Agenda includes some influential players in New Jersey politics, including Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer, Rev. Eric Dobson, New Jersey NAACP President Richard T. Smith, New Jersey Black Issues Convention Chairman Jerome C. Harris, Jr., New Jersey Institute for Social Justice CEO Ryan Haygood, former Westampton Mayor Carolyn Chang, Willingboro Veterans Affairs Director Reva Foster, Monarch Housing Associates CEO Taissa Kelly, and former New Jersey Policy Perspective President Brandon McCoy.
Cunningham was first elected to represent the Hudson County-based 31st district in the State Senate in 2007 and is currently the Senate President Pro-Tempore, placing her sixth in the line of gubernatorial succession.
The 31st is the only legislative district in the state to be represented by three Black lawmakers; Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City) and William Sampson (D-Bayonne) hold the two Assembly seats.
Under a new map approved by the Legislative Apportionment Commission earlier this year, the 31st district is 32% White, 34% Black, 33% Hispanic and 12% Asian. (Census numbers do not always add up to 100% since some respondents identify themselves as multiple races.)
Cunningham is one of four Black women in the State Senate, along with Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence), Nia Gill (D-Montclair), and Renee Burgess (D-Irvington), who was elected in September.
Gill faces a possible primary fight with Richard Codey (D-Roseland), a former governor who was first elected to the legislature in 1973; redistricting put the two in the same district and Codey is the clear favorite to keep the 52% White 27th district seat. The incumbent assemblymen, John McKeon (D-West Orange) and Thomas P. Giblin (D-Montclair), are also expected to keep their seats.
Another Black woman, Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-East Orange), is the front-runner for an open Senate seat in the new 34th district.
John Minella, the chief of staff to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, is the early favorite to serve as the interim senator through the end of Cunningham’s current term, which expires on January 11, 2024. He would have to win a special election convention to get the seat.
It’s still not clear who will get the Hudson County Democratic organization line for the full four-year term in 2023. Possible candidates include McKnight and Hudson County Commissioners Bill O’Dea and Jerry Walker.
“We must be intentional about who we are replacing a Black legislator with, given how hard-fought Black representation has been in this country and this state,” the United Black Agenda statement said.