I have had a few cool experiences in the Legislature, but one of the coolest and most educational was the honor of serving with a father and son in the Senate.
Let me explain.
For those not intimately aware of my Senate record, I served two terms – one ten month stretch from April 2001 to January 2002, and the other from January 2008 to July 2017.
During my first tenure, in the old District 21, my then-Senator, C. Louis Bassano took a job at the Sport Expo and created a Senate vacancy. Notwithstanding the prior agreement between the two counties (Essex and Union) that the two Assembly seats come from Essex and the Senate seat originate from Union, I figured out a way to move up to the Senate. I did think then that my stay would have been measured in years and not months, but redistricting dashed my hopes.
As the former Senate President, John Lynch, told me when I took the oath in 2001, “welcome to the Senate for a cup of coffee.”
One of the first Senators that I ran into in 2001 was Senator Leonard T. Connors Jr. He made some impression. Senator Connors Jr. was a giant in many ways. He was tall, broad-shouldered with this booming voice and amazing presence. All told, Senator Connors Jr. served 26 years in the Senate. Prior to his Senate service, he served in the Air Force and had a long career in the private sector. Senator Connors Jr. was most proud of his tenure as Mayor of Surf City. I lost count of how many decades he served as the distinguished Mayor, but it started in 1962 and he held it forever. He was the only Mayor Surf City ever needed.
Senator Connors Jr. taught me a few things in the Senate.
For one, he was empathic about taking care of the needs of the people he represented. This Senator never let the noise from Trenton distract him from his focus on taking care of District 9. Senator Connors Jr. focused on helping seniors, veterans and preserving the environment, particularly focusing on beach-related issues. Senator Connors Jr. was a tough fighter, and he didn’t lose many fights. He had a coalition of seasoned legislators and he didn’t let politics interfere with good government. To this day, I would say that Senator Leonard Connors Jr. was one of the ablest and most effective legislators that I served with. He knew the rhythm of the place.
Time to get to the 23.
Chris Connors is the son of the legendary Senator Connors, and he started in the Assembly in 1989. I was an aide to an Assemblyman then and watched this rookie start his career. All told Chris served in the Assembly from 1989 to 2008. In 2008, Chris and I both moved up to the Senate and we served for over a decade together.
The thing with kids who follow their parents, sometimes something gets lost in the next generation. Sometimes you witness an intelligence gap, a common sense gap, or sometimes the offspring can’t quite measure up. Not so with the Senators Connors tandem.
Chris is a little quieter, but just as tenacious as his dad. He inherited the same immovable instincts to help his constituents first and foremost. A day wouldn’t go by in Trenton that Chris wasn’t working on issues related to the 9th Legislative District. Besides environmental issues, Chris was a crusader for law enforcement and veterans’ issues.
Here is the kicker, unlike his father, who had this loud and booming ever present voice, Chris is softer spoken and was heard in caucus and on the Senate floor with not much regularity. But, and this is a big but, when he rose to speak, all eyes fixed on him. He was the one who stopped traffic when he spoke. On those occasions, he was thoughtful, forceful (when needed), judicious, balanced with common sense and a keen intelligence.
Our country isn’t too keen on dynasties just for the sake of a last name. Sometimes in politics your lineage can help open a few doors (or get some county lines), but then you’ve got to prove your worth. Having served with both Senators Connors, this father-son duo more than ably served their constituents and our State is better for it.