Longtime state Sen. Raymond Lesniak has filed paperwork to run for New Jersey governor, ending months of on-again, off-again flirtation with a statewide campaign.
“The final decision for me was I could not hold myself back,” Lesniak (D-Union) said by phone Thursday afternoon.
“The state of New Jersey needs fundamental reform and restructuring,” he said. “The state needs a fighter and I’m a fighter.”
Lesniak, who’s served nearly four decades in the state Legislature, filed paperwork to run on Wednesday with the New Jersey State Election Law Enforcement Commission. He announced he filed in an email he sent to Monmouth County Democrats, which Politico New Jersey was the first to report.
Democrat Phil Murphy and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, a Republican who has yet to announce whether she’ll run, are the current favorites to clinch their party’s nominations.
But neither is a sure thing, even though Murphy has the better odds in Democratic-heavy New Jersey, a state that’s soured on its incumbent GOP governor.
“He has a clear advantage, there’s no doubt about that,” Lesniak said of Murphy.
“This is an uphill battle,” he added. “But I believe I have the support of people and the recent election has shown that you can go directly to the people and get support if you have the right message.”
Lesniak said he plans to focus a campaign on making the state more affordable for its residents.
Lesniak, who was first elected to the state Assembly in 1978, is the second-longest serving member of the Legislature, after fellow state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex). He has served in the Senate since 1983.
Lesniak is a frequent Christie critic and a progressive standard-bearer in the Statehouse. He was the driving force behind repealing the death penalty in New Jersey and is leading the years-long fight to legalize sports betting in New Jersey.
He joins more than a dozen candidates hoping to succeed Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican.
On the Democratic side, retired firefighter and activist Bill Brennan, pharmaceutical sales rep Monica Brinson, former priest Bob Hoatson, former U.S. Treasury official Jim Johnson, newsletter publisher Lisa McCormick, Iraqi War veteran and banker Titus Pierce, and Assemblyman John Wisniewski are vying for their party’s nomination. State Investment Council Chairman Tom Byrne is also mulling whether to launch a campaign.
On the Republican side, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Somerset), Ocean County businessman Joseph Rullo and Nutley township commissioner Steve Rogers are in the race. Meanwhile, Joe Piscopo, a former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and the current host of a morning drive radio show, is flirting with a run. So is Evesham Mayor Randy Brown.
Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale is running as a Green Party candidate and dental hygienist Karese Laguerre is running as an independent.