Home>Campaigns>With 2023 legislative elections fast approaching, who isn’t running for re-election?

Assemblyman Hal Wirths. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

With 2023 legislative elections fast approaching, who isn’t running for re-election?

Eight retirements have been announced so far, with more undoubtedly on the way

By Joey Fox, January 05 2023 1:08 pm

On Tuesday, State Sen. Christopher Connors (R-Lacey) announced that he won’t seek re-election to the State Senate this year, bringing a three-decade career in the legislature to an end. He joins a small but growing cohort of state legislators who are retiring from their seats in 2023.

Some are seeking higher office; others are being pushed out by redistricting or by internal party politics; and still others like Connors simply decided they’ve had enough of Trenton. Regardless of motive, every retirement means one more new face in the statehouse come 2024.

Here’s a look at each confirmed or possible retirement coming in this year’s legislative elections.

Officially announced retirements

Connors, who has held his Ocean County Senate seat since 2008 and served in the Assembly before that, is one of two state senators to publicly announce that they’re stepping down this year.

The other is State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen), whose retirement was forced in February 2022 by a new legislative map that shoved him and State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City) into the same district. Sacco, recognizing that Stack likely had the upper hand, chose to step down rather than enter into a brutal primary fight.

Sacco’s not done with politics, however. One of just four dual officeholders left in the legislature, he’ll seek re-election as mayor in North Bergen with the support of Stack and the Hudson Democratic organization.

Six members of the Assembly, meanwhile, have said that they won’t seek re-election.

One of those comes with a major asterisk: Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City) isn’t running for the Assembly this year, but that’s because he’s gunning for a State Senate seat instead. With Stack shunted into Sacco’s district, Mukherji was given a clear path to the upper chamber, and he announced his campaign just days after the map was drawn.

Two of Mukherji’s Assembly Democratic colleagues, Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton) and Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-West New York), have also announced plans to run for another office rather than for another term in the Assembly.

In Benson’s case, that choice was made voluntarily. He’s waging a primary bid against Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, and has assembled a formidable list of endorsements against the five-term incumbent.

Jimenez’s decision to run for West New York town commissioner, on the other hand, was made because Hudson Democrats arranged for her Assembly seat to go to West New York Mayor Gabe Rodriguez instead.

Also leaving is Assemblyman Kevin Rooney (R-Wyckoff), whose district no longer includes enough of Bergen County to justify both him and Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips (R-Wyckoff) holding Assembly seats; his seat will likely go instead to Essex Republican Chairman Al Barlas, a resident of Cedar Grove.

Finally, Assemblymen Parker Space (R-Wantage) and Hal Wirths (R-Wantage) – both of whom hail from the Sussex County-based 24th district – are calling it quits, and neither seems to have an eye on higher office despite both being relatively young (Space is 54, Wirths is 57). Their joint departure sets up an intriguing primary fight for the safely Republican district, with several candidates already declared and many more considering.

Likely departing

There are also a few legislators who are widely assumed to be headed for the exits, but haven’t officially announced anything yet.

Two of them are casualties of the broader Hudson County shakeup: Assemblyman Pedro Mejia (D-Secaucus) and Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-Hoboken). Mejia will likely be replaced on the Hudson Democratic line by North Bergen Commissioner Julio Marenco, while Chaparro and Mukherji are slated to be succeeded by Jessica Ramirez and John Allen.

Neither departure is fully voluntary, and it’s possible one or both incumbents could forge ahead with an off-the-line campaign. But both initially arrived in the Assembly thanks to Hudson Democratic machinations, and it would be difficult for them to wage a serious bid against the powerful county party.

Also expected to leave the Assembly is Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-East Orange) who, like Mukherji, has a brand-new open Senate seat with her name on it. Timberlake hasn’t said much publicly about her plans, however, and the theoretical race to succeed her in the Assembly has also been a muted affair.

And then there’s State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City), who hasn’t even been in the statehouse in months due to cognitive health issues. No one thinks she’ll run for another term, but complications regarding her ability to make decisions (such as resigning her seat) have put the situation into an odd limbo.

Worth watching

In addition to the 12 legislators who are either definitely or probably departing, there are dozens of others who might join them. Everything from here onwards involves some level of speculation, but for a variety of reasons, it’s likely that at least a few other legislators won’t run again in 2023.

Starting in South Jersey, there’s State Sen. Fred Madden (D-Washington), who has long been the subject of retirement rumors – rumors only accentuated by his quiet decision to step down as Gloucester Democratic chairman last summer. He said in December 2021 that his intention is to run for another term, though that was before new legislative maps made his district much more competitive.

If Madden does end up retiring, his running mates Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Washington) or Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester) could run for his seat. They could end up leaving the legislature with him, or run for re-election to their current seats.

Another complicated succession battle could be brewing in Cunningham’s district; neither Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City) nor Assemblyman William Sampson (D-Bayonne) is currently viewed as a top-tier candidate for the Senate, but stranger things have happened.

Sampson is also embroiled in his own difficulties right now, with the Waterfront Commission revoking his crane operating license due to absenteeism. Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis proved just two years ago that he’s perfectly willing to give an incumbent legislator the boot, and the addition of Kearny to the district means that Mayor Alberto Santos may also want a say in the ultimate legislative delegation.

Over in Essex County, the lines of the new legislative map have forced State Sen./former Gov. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) and State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair) into a senator-on-senator brawl, with Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange) eying the race from the sidelines to see if there’s a chance to move up.

Codey is the favorite to get the county Democratic line, especially against Gill, who has never had a good relationship with Essex Democrats. But the situation is fluid enough that one or more of the three incumbents could step aside should things not go their way.

There’s also a cohort of legislators who are gearing up for another campaign but are worth watching anyways simply because of their age.

Topping the list, as he’s done for several cycles now, is State Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Old Bridge), who at 87 is the legislature’s oldest member. Thompson said in March 2022 that it’s “highly probable” he runs for re-election; if he does, he’d be 92 at the end of his next four-year term.

There’s also 84-year-old Assemblyman Joe Egan (D-New Brunswick), who similarly said last month that he wants to run again. (As an assemblyman, his terms are only two years long, so there’s slightly less pressure than there is for senators.) Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley), State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence), and Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark) will also be 80 or older on Election Day 2023, so they’re worth watching as well.

Most of these legislators, as well as the dozen-plus others who will be 70 or older by November, have made moves to seek re-election; Caputo, for example, has explicitly said that his intention is to run for another term. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if a couple members of the legislature’s oldest generation decide to retire.

And there’s always the possibility that one or more incumbents who have no direct reason to retire will do so anyways. Serving in the legislature is a tiring, not especially well-paid job, and sometimes legislators decide it’s just not for them.

For example, former Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport) – a young, well-liked assemblyman from a swing district – could have had a lengthy legislative career if he had wanted it. But he retired in 2021 after just two terms, saying he’d rather spend time with his family. There could well be more Ryan Peterses this year, and it’s tough to predict who they’ll be.

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