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State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark).

Senate majority leader race still nascent

Ruiz, Cunningham decline to say if they’re seeking Weinberg’s post

By Nikita Biryukov, June 30 2021 4:36 pm

Legislators haven’t begun to lobby for Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg’s (D-Teaneck) leadership position, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said Wednesday, and lawmakers considered as top-tier candidates for the role are staying mum about whatever ambitions they may hold.

“There is no majority leader race. Loretta Weinberg is the majority leader until January of whatever date. That doesn’t come up until a couple days after the election,” Sweeney said during a press gaggle following Wednesday’s voting session. “Right now, there really isn’t anybody lobbying me.”

The list of potential candidates to replace Weinberg is short. Senate President Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) is in the running, as is Senate Deputy Majority Leader Sandra Cunningham.

Both Cunningham and Ruiz are close Sweeney allies, and the Senate president is unlikely to select a male lawmaker for the role.

Weinberg is the only woman to hold a chamber leadership position, and Sweeney — a potential candidate for governor in 2025 — is likely wary of criticism over diversity at the top of his caucus.

That’s doubly true after this year’s budget negotiations, which saw Gov. Phil Murphy, Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) faced criticism over diversity in the budget talks.

Critics said the state’s $46.4 billion budget was drawn up largely by three white men. In defense, legislative leaders pointed to diversity on budget committees in both chambers.

Neither Ruiz nor Cunningham were willing to say they were seeking to succeed Weinberg Wednesday.

“If I am considered for any position in leadership, it is always an honor, and if in fact I am awarded that opportunity, it would be an amazing thing,” Ruiz said.

She declined to say whether she was pursuing the majority leader role, as did Cunningham.

But that’ll likely change given time.

“No one’s really been lobbying at this point,” Sweeney said. “That’s not to say they won’t start, but no one’s really started at this point.”

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