Gov. Phil Murphy and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg are taking sides in the contentious Democratic primary for State Senate in the 37th district, endorsing Gordon Johnson over Valerie Huttle.
The decision to endorse Johnson puts Murphy on a different side than some of his progressive allies – and some members of his own political team – but also repays a five-year-old political debt.
Johnson was the first major Democratic officeholder in the state to endorse Murphy, when Senate President Steve Sweeney and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop were still in the race and running ahead of the current governor.
Murphy is also backing the Bergen County Democratic organization’s candidates for two open State Assembly seats, former Tenafly Councilwoman Shama Haider and former Englewood Cliffs Councilwoman Ellen Park.
“Whether it’s the fight for racial and social justice or making health care more affordable and more accessible, this diverse, history-making ticket will be an ally for working families,” said Murphy, who will share the organization line with Johnson, Haider and Park.
Murphy also received the endorsement of Weinberg in his bid for a second term.
I’m fully committed to seeing that they are elected and Governor Murphy is re-elected this year,” the majority leader said.
Weinberg, whose retirement has triggered the race for her seat, has also endorsed Johnson, Haider and Park.
Haider could be one of the first Pakistani Americans and first Muslim to serve in the New Jersey Legislature – Sadaf Jaffer could also win in the 16th district – and Park would be the first Korean American woman and the first from Bergen County. Johnson would be the first Black to represent Bergen County – New Jersey’s largest – in the State Senate.
Murphy praised Weinberg as a “champion of progressive action” and repeated his description of her as having “the most consequential legislative career in the history of our state.”
“While Majority Leader Weinberg’s absence will leave a tremendous void, I’m incredibly proud to endorse Gordon Johnson, Shama Haider, and Ellen Park to carry the torch forward for residents of the 37th District,” Murphy said.
Weinberg has served with Johnson for two decades, beginning when the two were running mates in the 2001 State Assembly election.
“Together, we led the fight to expand access to health care, increase the minimum wage, enact stronger gun control laws, and ensure equal protection for everyone regardless of race, religion, gender or who they love,” Weinberg said. “I am incredibly proud of all we have accomplished, but we know there is still so much work left to be done.”
Weinberg became the first woman to represent the 37th district in the Assembly when she won in 1992, and the first woman to represent Bergen County in the Senate in 2005.
“It was my Assembly mate, Gordon Johnson, who helped me shatter that glass ceiling,” Weinberg said. “Now, with Gordon, Shama and Ellen, we have the opportunity to kick down three more locked doors and elect the most diverse legislative delegation in New Jersey’s history.”
Weinberg’s ties to Haider, the Tenafly Democratic municipal chair, go way back.
In 2007, when Bergen County Democrats mulled dropping Weinberg from the organization line – a move they abandoned before the primary election – Haider became an off the line candidate for freeholder on the Real Bergen Democrats line that Weinberg had assembled.
Haider and Park face Huttle’s running mates, Teaneck Councilwoman Gervonn Romney Rice and Tenafly Council President Lauren Kohn Dayton.
Haider and Park emerged as late replacement candidates after Teaneck Democratic Municipal Chair Alexandra Soriano-Taveras and Palisades Park Mayor Christopher Chung withdrew from the race last week.