Jersey Unsure: Next Governor? Hope It's Not This Guy

After the last set of polls, it seems likely Gov. Chris Christie isn’t going to be the next President of the United States. And of course, he’s also not going to be the Governor of New Jersey anymore. (New Jersey’s term limits are still a thing unless President Obama has changed that.) So the race is on to replace him.

One hat already in the ring belongs to State Sen. Ray Lesniak, one of the leading contenders on the Democratic side. It’s not an awesome hat. It’s dinghy hat. A tarnished hat. It’s probably, though this is just a guess, a pretty hipster hat, what with him being a north eastern Democrat.

Let’s meet this hat, shall we?

State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) says he is planning a gubernatorial run in 2017 since he’s “the best one to put the state on the right track.”

Lesniak, who spoke to Hudson County View after being honored at Union City’s Paw Fest on Saturday, had a good laugh when asked what made him decide that the time to run for governor is now.

“Well, first of all, what I have said is I am planning on running for governor and not running for re-election to the Senate,” he said.

“This state does need strong leadership, I believe I have been a strong leader and I’m the best one to put the state on the right track, if I finally, ultimately decide to run. But, I’m planning it and I’m seriously considering it: let’s put it that way, that’s for sure.”

It is no surprise he’d mention existing leadership. Lesniak is long-time Clinton lapdog, and was a driving force behind the phony “Bridgegate” scandal designed to bring down the state’s very successful Republican governor. Oh I know, I’m just as thrilled as anyone to get 2,000 comments from the RedState community about how Chritie isn’t conservative and Christie hugged Obama and Christie eats donuts, but the Bridgegate “scandal” was a scam cooked up by Democrats and MSNBC to attack Republicans as a whole. And Lesniak was one of the chief architects.

Still, far be it from me to not give this democrat a fair shake. Leadership, he says. Well where can his style of leadership get a more fair shake than the New York Times?

At the heart of that nexus is Mr. Lesniak’s law firm, Weiner Lesniak, based in Parsippany. In the past decade, it has done legal work for scores of New Jersey municipalities, collecting millions of dollars. In many instances, the contracts awarded to Mr. Lesniak’s firm came after the senator or his allies offered campaign contributions or other political support to local officials who decide who will get the work, a fact that Mr. Lesniak acknowledges.

While such trade-offs are hardly novel or unique to New Jersey’s power brokers, what sets them apart is the prevalence and common acceptance of the practice.

“I don’t deny that,” Mr. Lesniak said of connections between his support and contracts for his firm. “People say, ‘You raise money for people who get elected and then they hire your law firm.’ I go, ‘Shocking, isn’t it?’ Are you supposed to hire people who donated to your opponent?”

By Mr. Lesniak’s estimates, government work accounted for as much as a quarter of his firm’s business in recent years. Currently, he said, it accounts for about 10 percent.

Weiner Lesniak earned more than $8 million in the past eight years by representing Newark in a long-running lawsuit that accused the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey of shortchanging the city of hundreds of millions dollars in lease payments for the Newark airport. The two sides agreed last month to settle the suit for $450 million.

During the 1990’s, when Mr. McGreevey was the mayor of Woodbridge, Weiner Lesniak collected more than $5 million in fees from the municipality. At the same time, the firm contributed about $41,800 to Mr. McGreevey’s campaigns, according to public records.


Such links have made Mr. Lesniak vulnerable to critics who say that campaign cash and other political interests play too large a role in the awarding of government contracts. One result, they say, is higher costs, ultimately borne by taxpayers.

Mr. Lesniak’s detractors also say that his law firm and extensive political network of close allies – which directly translates into 3 votes in the 40-member Senate, including his own, and 5 in the 80-member General Assembly – enable him to exert a presence in deals large and small.

In many cases, the influence is wielded at the most local level. In Plainfield, for example, candidates backed by one of Mr. Lesniak’s allies, Assemblyman Jerry Green – who, according to public records, has received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Weiner Lesniak in the past decade – gained control of the school board in 2003.

Controlling a school board might seem like small stakes in the political world. But because Plainfield has been named a special-needs district under the Abbott decision – a 1998 state court ruling that ordered New Jersey to spend as much to educate students in its poor districts as in its wealthiest ones – it is flush with additional state and federal aid.

One of the reconstituted board’s first acts was to replace the legal counsel that had served the district since 1972. The firm that was awarded the contract? Weiner Lesniak.

Last month, the district gave the firm another yearlong contract, worth about $80,000.

Board officials did not return calls about the contract. But one resident active in Democratic politics, who had been briefed on the board’s closed-door discussions but would speak only if granted anonymity, for fear of alienating Senator Lesniak, said: “They knew that it was going to cost more over time. And that this was payback for contributions and influence that had been gotten.”

Isn’t that precious? Let me pull one bit of that out again, for emphasis.

“I don’t deny that,” Mr. Lesniak said of connections between his support and contracts for his firm. “People say, ‘You raise money for people who get elected and then they hire your law firm.’ I go, ‘Shocking, isn’t it?’ Are you supposed to hire people who donated to your opponent?”

What are Democrats always saying on TV about money and influence in politics? I can’t remember. Anyone? Anyone remember?

Lesniak also has benefited from big dollar, special loans from a failed bank of which he was a director and which was put under a federal order “to stop what authorities described as unsound banking and loan practices,” a federal order that a big recipient of Lesniak cash – ahem, Sen. Bob Menendez – allegedly tried to overturn. That bank was cited with “inadequate loan supervision and management, failure to comply with anti-money-laundering policies, bad management and poor supervision” and held deposits of government funds. The bank’s bust cost the FDIC $15 million.

Jersey’s next gubernatorial election is in 2017. Are the Democrats intent on restoring Jersey’s reputation as the home of ethically-dubious governing by liberal elected officials? If so, they’ve surely found their man.