Nicholas Paul Scutari, who is expected to become the new Senate President this afternoon, has seen some his greatest political opportunities come, often unexpectedly, through a combination of skill and by fortunate timing.
Scutari launched his political career in 1994, at age 25, when he won a seat on the Linden Board of Education. He finished first in a field of six candidates. Two years later, when Union County elections were still competitive, and Republicans had a 5-4 majority Democrats nominated Scutari to run against two-term incumbent Republican freeholders, Linda-Lee Kelly and Linda DiGiovanni.
With President Bill Clinton carrying Union County by 42,190 votes and 22 points in 1996 – U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg had won Union by 8 points and 10,709 votes two years earlier – Scutari and his running mate ousted the Republican incumbents by over 10,500 votes. That was the last time Republicans controlled county government in Union.
After becoming the youngest freeholder chairman in county history in 1999, Scutari was re-elected by more than 6,000 votes that year, and by a margin of more than 16,500 in 2002.
In late September 2003, with ballots already printed, freshman State Sen. Joseph Suliga (D-Linden) withdrew from the race after facing some difficult personal challenges that included allegations that he made sexually suggestive statements to a woman at the Trump Marina Casino. He instead sought treatment for alcohol abuse.
Suliga went to the Senate in 2001 after legislative redistricting created a new district that separated Linden and Rahway from the Elizabeth-based 20th and added Plainfield from the Middlesex-based 17th.
After Suliga announced his withdrawal, Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Fanwood), who had been Scutari’s freeholder running mate, said she wanted the Senate seat. But once Linden Mayor John Gregorio made it clear that he wanted Scutari, Stender backed down – and after the attorney for the Union County Democratic organization, Angelo Genova, told Stender that he didn’t think a double-candidate switch – Stender for Senate and Scutari for Assembly – would have held up in court.
After a four-week general election, Scutari defeated Republican Martin Marks, the mayor of Scotch Plains, by 3,049 votes, 55%-45%, to win his first four-year term in the Senate. He won his sixth term in 2021 by a 23-point margin.
He has spent his entire tenure in the Senate in the majority party. Democrats took full control of the legislature on the day he first won a Senate seat.
Scutari became the beneficiary of shifts in the legislature after the 2009 election.
After Steve Sweeney unseated Richard Codey as Senate President, Barbara Buono moved up to majority leader. Paul Sarlo replaced Buono as Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman and Scutari took over for Sarlo as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Scutari spent 12 years in the post, becoming the longest-serving Judiciary chairman in state history.
Following the death of Assemblyman Gerald Green (D-Plainfield) in 2018, Scutari became a candidate to replace Green as the Union County Democratic Chairman. He scored a lopsided win, 412 to 341, in a March special election against Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr. He’s had no opposition for the post since then.
Scutari’s latest unforeseen opportunity came on November 2 when Sweeney lost his bid for re-election to his 3rd district State Senate seat to Republican Edward Durr, a truck driver who hardly spent any money on his campaign.
Leveraging his own relationships, with two days the 53-year-old Scutari locked up the votes to become the next Senate President.