Longtime senator faces primary challenger

Sen. Lesniak faces primary challenger from current Roselle Board of Education president Obe

UNION COUNTY — Democrat State Sen. Ray Lesniak, Joe Cryan and Annette Quijano may run as a team, but the state senator is the only one being challenged in the primary.
Roselle resident Donna Obe announced yesterday she would be seeking the Democratic nomination for state senate in the 20th legislative district running on the Real Democrats for Change ticket.
Obe, a resident of Roselle for 15 years and current board of education president, is a widow with one son in college and an assistant vice president of Citibank in New York City.
The candidate has challenged Lesniak, 67, partner at the law firm Weiner Lesniak, saying “the winds of change are strong” in a press release. She also pointed out that the longtime powerful legislator was no longer up to the elected position. She especially faulted her opponent’s effort to eliminate the Waterfront Commission, which serves the port and fights to keep out the organized crime influence.
“My opponent’s proposal to weaken state oversight of the solid waste industry is just another example of misrepresentation of the people of Elizabeth, Union, Roselle and Hillside,” she said in the release. The candidate also hit Lesniak for his overt attempts at politically influencing public education.
Her remark about education was a direct hit at the long serving senator for his political influence at Kean University, specifically with University President Dawood Farahi and the Kean Board of Trustees.
Many have tried to unseat Lesniak, and a few have even come close. In fact, two years ago, Hillside resident and Elizabeth assistant superintendent of schools at the time, Jerome Dunn, gave the state senator, who has held the legislative seat since 1983, a run for his money.
When all the votes were counted in the June primary, Lesniak beat Dunn 54 to 46 percent, a narrow margin according to some. Enough to try again, with perhaps a more viable candidate.
Lesniak and Cryan fought off the 2011 tough primary challenge, with Cryan, assembly majority leader and former Democratic chairman, and the powerful senator holding off a slate backed by the Elizabeth Board of Education.
The 2011 primary race was hard fought and nasty, with all candidates hurling accusations, both political and personal. But this time around, the Elizabeth Board of Education will not be running any candidates, preferring to give all their support to Obe. They are also relying strongly on rumors that there is a breech between Cryan and the legislator that might be enough to help them win the seat this time around.
Since the primary two years ago, there has been a definite chill between Cryan and the veteran legislator, although neither has acknowledged it. However, while in previous election cycles Lesniak announced reelection intent as a team with Cryan and Quijano, this time he did not.
Cryan, on the other hand, sources said, is still smarting from the political snub he received after Lesniak did nothing to stop his being ousted as assembly majority leader after the election two years ago. Cryan, a Union resident, pulled out all the stakes to get the votes out in the township for Lesniak in the 2011 election, which offset the strong Elizabeth turnout against him.
Lesniak, who announced in January that he would be seeking reelection, noted at the time that his “passion to serve was stronger than any other point in my career.”
The legislator listed many priorities for the upcoming term, including upgrading of the state’s power delivery system to avoid long-term power outages, gun control, marriage equality, animal protection and sports betting.
Whether Lesniak is physically up to the grueling challenge of campaigning, though, is unknown. In August the legislator suffered a minor stroke, leading to speculation that he may not to seek election.