Longtime NJ senator announces bid for governor

 New Jersey Sen. Ray Lesniak, a 40 year veteran of the state Legislature, plans to run for governor in 2017. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey Sen. Ray Lesniak, a 40 year veteran of the state Legislature, plans to run for governor in 2017. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

A prominent New Jersey lawmaker will not seek another term in the state Legislature as he works on  plans to run for governor in 2017.

Democrat Ray Lesniak of Union County says this term in the New Jersey Senate will be his last.

“Forty years in the Legislature certainly is enough, but, more importantly, this state has very, very serious problems that just one senator cannot solve,” he said Friday. “I believe my record shows that I can get things done. The state certainly needs to get things done, and that’s why I’m looking at running for governor.”

Lesniak has been a leading critic of the Christie administration’s settlement with Exxon Mobil over environmental pollution. He’s also pushed for criminal justice reform and animal rights.

Lesniak starts with a significant Democratic base in Union County, said Rider University political science professor Ben Dworkin. And the seasoned lawmaker has been working to build connections with a number of progressive groups.

“Animal rights groups, environmental groups, and others. I think if he is able to sort of pull those actual voters as opposed to political organizations based in other counties, he could be a significant player and have a real chance,” Dworkin said.

Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison also sees Lesniak as a viable candidate.

“He’s got those important party networks, perhaps not in his pocket, but he has good relations with those parties,” she said. “He’s been around for very long time, so, in a state where it’s very difficult to garner statewide name recognition, I think Lesniak has a bit more than some of the other contenders.”

Senate President Steve Sweeney, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, and former ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy are among other Democrats political analysts believe are considering running for governor in 2017.

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