Craig Coughlin to become next Assembly speaker

Democrat Craig Coughlin will replace Vincent Prieto as Assembly Speaker, both men announced Thursday.

The switch has been expected since Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) announced he would be challenging Prieto (D-Secaucus) earlier this year.

“Today, I am announcing that I will no longer be seeking a new term as speaker, and that myself and the rest of the Democratic caucus will support our colleague Craig Coughlin,” Prieto said. “I look forward to working with Assemblyman Coughlin to ensure a smooth transition.”

What’s next for Prieto, who became speaker in 2014, is unclear. He could remain in the Legislature or be picked for an administration job by Gov.-elect Phil Murphy.

Coughlin becomes the third-most powerful person in the state, behind Murphy and state Sen. Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who was re-elected by his caucus to remain the Senate president.

Coughlin, a lawyer from Woodbridge, becomes the first Central Jersey politician to be Speaker in some time. He thanked Prieto for the endorsement.

“I am honored by Speaker Prieto’s endorsement,” he said. “The speaker and I have worked closely on many of the important issues facing New Jersey over the past several years, and I am humbled to receive his support.

“With the support of my colleagues, I am committed to ensuring that our caucus is unified in moving forward to work with Gov.-elect Murphy and Senate President Sweeney to enact a positive agenda for the residents of our state.”

The Republicans caucus re-elected its top leaders.

Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) will remain the minority leader in the Senate, while Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) will remain the minority leader in the Assembly.