Though a former post saw him directing the state’s Democratic Senators, Jeffrey Laurenti is running for the Assembly seat left vacant by Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora by framing himself as a close ally of Gov. Phil Murphy.
“I have been incensed by the democratic legislative leadership hamstringing on enacting a program they had all run on together,” Laurenti told the New Jersey Globe, referring primarily to the now-resolved intraparty feud over an increase Murphy sought to the state’s millionaires’ tax.
Should Laurenti, who was formerly executive director of the State Senate and ran against Rep. Chris Smith for the latter’s House seat more than 30 years ago, win, he’d become a much-needed ally for Murphy in the legislature.
Currently, the governor has few such allies in the statehouse, as was made clear by some of last month’s budget votes.
Gusciora was one such ally, and with his seat vacant, it’s possible that Murphy loses one of the few votes he could reliably whip.
But, it’s not clear how putting all his weight behind the governor will play out for Laurenti, who largely left the field of high-profile politics to work for a series of foreign policy non-profits.
It’s possible that his support of Murphy backfires by causing legislative leaders and their allies to pressure committee people to vote against him. Senate President Steve Sweeney and, to a lesser degree, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin have so far shown more pull than Murphy, but they’ve also previously – if inconsistently – shown reluctance to wade into political feuds around the state.
Still, the prospect of them weighing in didn’t seem to worry Laurenti.
“There’s not pushback on the county committee people, and the other candidates don’t dare to say that they will side with the legislative leaders when push comes to shove,” Laurenti said. “They say they’ll try to conciliate or something. conciliating in this kind of battle over values is akin to capitulating in my view.”
While he declined to give even a rough count, the former House candidate said he’d received “dozens” of commitments from county committee candidates. There are 278 county committee seats in the district, less any that aren’t filled.
A candidate will need more than 50% of those votes to win outright, a prospect that seems increasingly unlikely given the breadth of the candidates in the race.
So far, five candidates have informed county leadership that they’ll be putting their names up for a vote, said Mercer County Democratic chairwoman Janice Mironov.
Mercer County Freeholder Anthony Verrelli, who has support of many top Mercer Democrats, including Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, who won beat him in a special earlier this year, is the apparent frontrunner, but he gave even less information about how many votes he had already secured.
Also running are Hopewell Township Mayor Kevin Kuchinski, Ewing School Board member Carl Benedetti and Ewing-based activist Fatima Mughal.
But, informing county leadership of intent to run is, in this case, a courtesy. Should others want to run, all they need to do is secure a nomination at the vacancy convention next Thursday.
Though, any dark horse candidates-in-waiting would be well advised to put their names forward sooner rather than later. Besides the obvious restrictions to campaigning that come with a secret candidacy, not allowing for preparation of voting machines is unlikely to do anything but encourage resentment in the district’s voting committee people.