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New Jersey Senate chambers in Trenton. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Here’s an early look at possible candidates to replace Ronald Rice

Democrats can pick a caretaker or name their 2023 candidate early

By David Wildstein, August 19 2022 1:04 pm

The special election convention for Ronald Rice’s soon-to-be-open State Senate seat in the 28th district gives Essex County Democrats multiple options on a short and long-term basis, but it is still too early to assume that any one candidate has an edge on the seat.

One of the biggest factors at determining Rice’s successor is legislative redistricting.  Bloomfield, Nutley and Glen Ridge will shift from the 28th to the 34th next year, while Maplewood, South Orange and Hillside will become of the 28th.

Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr. will likely ensure that Maplewood and South Orange don’t feel disenfranchise by allowing Bloomfield, Nutley and Glen Ridge to choose their ne senator without any input.

Democrats have to real choices: pick a caretaker who would finish out Rice’s current term and not be a candidate in 2023, or select a new senator who would run in next year’s election.

Democrats and Republicans have until September 15 to nominate candidates for a November 2022 special election to fill the remainder of Rice’s current term that runs until January 9, 2024. The filing deadline for independent candidates is September 6.

A special election convention must be held between September 7 – seven days after Rice’s resignation becomes effective – and October 5.  The winner of that election would serve until the candidate elected by voters in the upcoming general election is certified on November 21.

A new senator out of Bloomfield, Nutley or Glen Ridge would be an immediate lame duck, unless they move to the new 28th by January 8, 2023.

Democrats – the GOP has no chance to in this seat – could send 82-year-old Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley) to the Senate as a caretaker as a way of closing out a political career when he on a Newark North Ward-based Assembly seat as a Republican in 1967.  Caputo is likely the last white Democrat to represent the 28th; he will be in the 34th after next year’s election.

Seven-term Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark) is 79 and want the Senate seat, but it’s not clear if she’ll have party support to run for a four-year term next year.  But she could be a contender for a caretaker route.

Wayne Richardson, the president of the Essex County Board of Commissioners, is a possible Senate candidate.  He lives in Newark’s South Ward and is the president of the politically influential Laborers’ Local 55.

Irvington, which has not been represented in the legislature in fifteen years, has a deep bench of quality candidates who could increase the number of Black women in the New Jersey Senate from three to four : Council President Renee Burgess and Councilwomen Charnette Frederic, Jamillah Beasley and Dr. October Hudley.  All are allies of Mayor Tony Vauss, who is a staunch supporter of Jones.

As a caretaker, Democrats could pick someone out of Bloomfield: Councilwoman Wartyna Davis, an associate dean at William Paterson University and former political science department chair who would become the first member of the LGBTQ community to serve in the New Jersey State Senate, or Councilwoman Sarah Cruz.

While the clear front-runner for the 34th district Senate seat is Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-East Orange), an interim senator from Bloomfield could wind up running for an open Assembly seat

That’s happened before: in 2001, interim State Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove) found himself out of a Senate seat after redistricting and went back to the Assembly for six years before returning to the upper house; and in 1983, State Sen. Nicholas LaRocca (D-Union City), who was picked by William Vincent Musto to succeed him after he went to prison in 1982, went to the Assembly, clearing a path for Assembly Speaker Christopher Jackman (D-West New York) to move to the Senate.

One outside-the-box candidate for Rice’s seat as a caretaker would be Analilia Mejia, a Glen Ridge resident who served as executive director of New Jersey Working Families before leaving to become national political director for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

In the 28th district, one of the Assembly seats is already spoken for.

Democrats have committed support for Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-South Orange), who had represented the 27th since 2010, to stay on in her new district.

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