UNION COUNTY, NJ — Democratic State Sen. Raymond Lesniak says he has done all he can do as a state senator and has no plans to seek reelection. He has bigger plans in mind.
According to multiple reports, the worst kept secret in state politics has been that Lesniak plans to run for governor in 2017, and that secret was recently confirmed.
“If I don’t run for governor, then I’m not running for reelection,” Lesniak told Politico on July 30. “Forty years will be plenty for me. I need to do more and I can’t do more without being governor, so that’s why I’m running.”
Lesniak is the second-longest sitting lawmaker. His political career began in the assembly in 1978 and he was elected to the state senate in 1983. He has also been one of the most vocal and consistent critics of Gov. Chris Christie.
Speculation has already began about who might make a run for the senate seat in 2017, with Sheriff Joe Cryan’s name being mentioned. However, Cryan told Politico he has not even thought about it. More names, like that of Elizabeth Mayor Christian Bollwage and recently elected Assemblyman Jamel Holley have been mentioned in political circles, but the election is a long way off and only time will tell who throws their hat in the ring.
Meanwhile, Lesniak, who could not be reached for comment for this article, would be required to give up his senate race if he ultimately decides to make a run for governor official. Both elections are in 2017, and state law does not allow him to run for both.
Lesniak told The Star-Ledger recently that in any run for the highest office in the state he would focus on criminal justice reform and education spending, and he supports a millionaires tax and raising the gas tax.
“These are issues we are running away from that we can’t run away from anymore,” he told The Star-Ledger in a July 31 article.
In recent years, the longtime senator has sponsored a law to repeal the death penalty and another expanding the state’s drug court eligibility for nonviolent criminals. In 2011, legislation he sponsored to authorize sports betting was approved by the voters.
In addition, the senator has very recently spoken out loudly against the proposed $225 million settlement between the state and ExxonMobil.
The lawsuit, which has been going on for more than a decade, involves two polluted petroleum sites in northern New Jersey, including Linden, 16 additional facilities across the state, and about 1,700 retail gas stations.
Lesniak believes the settlement is too low and not in the best interest of the residents of the state, and has pulled out every stop in an attempt to stop the settlement. So far, he has fallen short of stopping the measure by way of the courts, but the settlement is still awaiting final approval.
The senator has also recently championed alternative high schooling for young students battling drug and alcohol abuse with the opening of the Raymond J. Lesniak Recovery High School, which opened its doors about a year ago. The school is designed to help the students learn while staying clean and sober.
The recovery high school is housed on the Kean University campus, and it is Lesniak’s affiliation with Kean University that could put a stain on any run for the governor’s seat.
Kean University President Dawood Farahi is a known associate of the senator, and the school is within the senator’s district. Lesniak has been criticized for his involvement, or perceived involvement, with the school as it has struggled through many controversies over the last five years.
Most recently, the school was in danger of losing its Middle States accreditation, but narrowly escaped this problem. But more still arose, most notably with the sensational purchase of a conference table. It was national news last year when the school purchased a conference table and sound equipment for its new Green Lane building for $220,000 from a company in China.
Lesniak’s name has long been mentioned in remarks about Kean University, and while he has not been seen to have any direct involvement over the state institution’s rampant spending, massive debt and constant faculty-administration infighting, he has also ignored the issue. The senator has for a long time been in a unique position to encourage or force changes at the school but has chosen instead to ignore the problem.
Lesniak could not be reached for comment.