U.S. Rep. Donald Payne has announced his support for Nick Scutari to be New Jersey’s next state Senate President — calling the Democrat from the 22nd legislative district an “effective leader” whose years of service would prepare him for the role.
State Sen. Nia H. Gill (D-34) is also looking to take the state Senate president’s seat, left open after the defeat of state Sen. Stephen Sweeney in his own 3rd district on Election Day. Gill, a Montclair resident, announced her candidacy for the seat on Saturday, Nov. 6.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Sen. Scutari for years and found him to be a dedicated public servant, thoughtful and open to new ideas,” Payne said in a statement sent to outlets including Hudson County View and New Jersey Globe.
Scutari is widely reported to be the choice of Democratic Power brokers. State Senate Democrats are expected to meet Friday to select Sweeney’s replacement, now that the outgoing Senate President has conceded his loss.
Payne’s 10th Congressional district overlaps with both Scutari’s state legislative district (in parts of Union County) and Gill’s (in parts of Essex County, including Montclair).
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Payne is one of two Black members of Congress from New Jersey. His endorsement of Scutari, who is white, drew criticism from Imani Oakley, a Montclair resident looking to challenge him for the Democratic nomination.
“After Black and brown leaders from across New Jersey demanded that a person of color serve as Senate President, Donald Payne Jr. sold us out,” Oakley, who is Black, said in a statement sent to media Thursday. “His decision to support Sen. Scutari shows that he’ll always choose the party bosses over the demands of progressives and Black & Brown communities.”
Last week, after Sweeney’s defeat was called by most media (but not yet acknowledged by Sweeney), a coalition of Black and Latino leaders called on the Legislature to select a person of color as the next state Senate president. Gill, who is Black, announced her candidacy the next day.
“We are at a pivotal moment for the future of the State of New Jersey,” Gill, who bested Republican challenger Scott Pollack in this year’s election for her state Senate seat, said in a press release announcing her candidacy. “As Senate president, I look to lead our chamber in a way that reflects and is responsive to meet our state’s rich diversity of needs.”
Gill and Payne were each among six candidates who in 2012 sought the 10th District seat Payne now occupies, after his father, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Sr., died. Payne Jr. came in first place, with 60% of the vote. Gill came in third place, with 17%.
— Louis C. Hochman