The election of Phil Murphy as governor, giving Democrats full control of New Jersey’s executive and legislative branches for the first time since 2005, was not the only significant change that came about following the state’s election Tuesday night.
The passing of Sen. Jim Whelan, retirement of Sens. Diane Allen and Joe Kyrillos, and — as a result of their runs in the gubernatorial primary — the departures of Sen. Ray Lesniak and Assemblymen John Wisniewski and Jack Ciattarelli means a lot of institutional knowledge in numerous districts across the state will be lost.
“When you lose a collective like that, that’s impactful,” said Michael Egenton, executive vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.
Which members of the Legislature will take the lead remains to be seen.
But Brigid Harrison, professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, said one thing is certain: They will be Democrats.
“I don’t want to make it sound like Republicans in the Legislature are impotent, but being the party in the majority brings with it perks,” she said.
“Not to say Republicans are shunned and Democrats are living like kings, but in terms of really creating policy, there comes an advantage of being in the majority with policy and ability to chair legislative committees and moving legislation.”
Here are some of the races that are significant for the business community.
Senate race in Legislative District 3
The result: Won by Democrat and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who retained his seat.
The analysis: The fact that the New Jersey Education Association spent millions of dollars to unseat Sweeney put a spotlight on the race. Sweeney’s victory was not a good sign for the NJEA.
“The takeaway is that the NJEA — which was perceived to be the driving powerhouse of union-backed state power, harkening back to the (Gov. Jim) Florio administration — this really demonstrates a chink in their armor,” Harrison said. “It opens up avenues for other legislators to defy the will of the NJEA.”
Hoboken mayoral race
The result: Won by Democrat Ravinder Bhalla.
The analysis: As part of New Jersey’s booming coast in Hudson County, Hoboken is a key player in the state’s economic future — and the mayor’s job is to encourage and ensure continued growth. The win in neighboring Jersey City by incumbent Steve Fulop also plays a role. Both in Jersey City and Hoboken, the winners have to have an eye on economic development.
“The candidates recognize that the services the government is able to provide, and the quality of life for residents, is dependent upon economic development and their cities, in some ways, are outliers in the state,” Harrison said. “For example, in South Jersey, unemployment is double or triple what is in the Gold Coast. While there are problems (in Hudson County), economic development is by and large a positive development.”
Atlantic City mayoral race
The result: Won by Democrat Frank Gilliam.
The analysis: This bodes well for Atlantic City’s revitalization efforts since, even with a Republican governor, the Republican mayor was unable to prevent a state takeover.
Mayor-elect Gilliam said his victory, along with that of Gov. Phil Murphy, marks a new, never-before-seen chapter for Atlantic City.
“This is the first time in the history of Atlantic City — that I can recall — that we’re going to have a fruitful and prosperous relationship with a governor,” he said. “I’m looking forward to sitting down as soon as I get in with Gov. Murphy and make sure that we’re on the same page. I believe that this will truly be a true partnership, as opposed to a dictatorship that we’ve had over the past eight years under Gov. (Chris) Christie.”
Gilliam already has established a relationship with Murphy, who has indicated the state’s position in Atlantic City would change if he was elected.
Senate race in Legislative District 2
The result: Won by Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown, flipping the seat.
The analysis: Like the mayoral race, this one was also important for Atlantic City’s future. Democrats hoped Whelan’s replacement, Colin Bell, a Sweeney supporter, could serve as an effective tool to gain access to state resources.
“The reality is that Jim Whelan’s shoes are enormous to fill,” Harrison said.
Having been the mayor of Atlantic City and then moving to the Senate, his depth of knowledge of the issues in the region cannot be replaced.
Time will tell if Brown, a Republican, can make inroads to effect policy.
“There has been an obstinance (with) which South Jersey leadership has been perceived by Gov. Christie,” Harrison said. “It’s a welcome change that Christie is no longer in that position of power. Many people, in the southern region, perceived Christie as having a kind of vendetta against Atlantic City, and he publicly rooted for Atlantic City’s failure at various points.”
Senate race in Legislative District 11
The result: Won by Democrat Vin Gopal, flipping the seat from incumbent Jennifer Beck.
The analysis: While some celebrated the victory by a minority candidate, others noted it came at the cost of a woman losing a seat in the Senate.
But Gopal’s smartly run campaign, focused on millennials, may be a key to keeping more young people in the state.
“He has really targeted a lot of his campaigning and messaging at millennial voters, which is increasingly a large demographic in that area, as the Gold Coast growth is trickling down,” Harrison said.
With that in his favor, Gopal’s team can focus on economic development policies that target the millennial group.