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State Sen. Nellie Pou (D-North Haledon)

Pou could face 2021 challenge

35th district seat could be least secure of Democratic incumbents

By David Wildstein, August 20 2018 12:19 am


One of the most vulnerable members of the New Jersey State Senate is Democrat Nellie Pou (D-North Haledon), a three-term incumbent who has spent more than twenty years in the New Jersey Legislature.

Pou’s problem is local politics: she was allied with Paterson Mayor Joey Torres, who resigned last year following his corruption conviction.  The new mayor, Andre Sayegh, could decide he wants his own ally representing the state’s third-largest city in the State Senate.

After taking office in July, Sayegh removed Pou from his post as the Paterson Business Administrator – a signal of her own political vulnerability when she’s up for re-election to the Senate in 2021.  Another sign: Pou, some Passaic County Democrats say, could lack the support of County Chairman John Currie, who is also the Democratic State Chairman.

But Pou is viewed as a loyal member of Rep. Bill Pascrell’s political team, and Pascrell has substantial clout in county politics.  And her ouster could face a vocal protest from some of the women members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, many of whom wield significant power.

It’s possible that Pou could face a primary challenge, especially if Gov. Phil Murphy faces one.  That might make it easier for Currie to drop Pou, one of two Latinas in the State Senate, from the organization line.  Pou could run with Murphy’s primary opponent, perhaps with the financial backing of Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Possible replacements for Pou include Assembly Majority Conference Leader Shavonda Sumter and Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, both Paterson Democrats.

Pou was first elected to the Assembly in a 1997 special election convention after Pascrell was elected to Congress.  She moved up to the Senate in 2011, after redistricting pushed the hometown of longtime State Sen. John Girgenti (D-Hawthorne) into the 38th district, along with State Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Fair Lawn).

Democrats had tired of Girgenti, who has spent 34 years in the legislature – a constant reminder that the argument of continuity of service when new districts are drawn is malleable.

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