List grows of lawmakers retiring before next round of legislative elections

17 Senate and Assembly members plan to retire from Legislature, with more expected

By: - March 15, 2023 7:13 am

Seventeen legislative incumbents have said they won't seek another term, and that number is expected to creep upward before a key filing deadline. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Nearly 1 in 6 New Jersey legislators will not seek another term this year, and the exodus from Trenton may grow still before a March 27 election filing deadline.

Altogether, 17 seated lawmakers have said they will not seek another term in the Legislature, a swell of retirements poised to be the largest in decades. The list of lawmakers calling it quits includes Sen. Fred Madden, Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham, and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey.

A new legislative map that will be in effect for this year’s round of legislative races — all 120 seats are on the ballot — shoulders at least some of the blame, according to Dan Cassino, executive director of the Farleigh Dickinson University Poll.

“Once the districts have been redrawn and it’s tougher and you’re going to have to learn a whole new district, you’re going to have to work a lot harder to get reelected,” he said. “That’s a different proposition, and it can make retirement seem a lot more compelling.”

The prospect of a Legislature that may avoid large policy shifts ahead of 2023’s gubernatorial election could also have driven some lawmakers — especially those backing controversial policies — to their decisions, he said, while others were likely put off by the prospect of a four-year term.

“Especially for older members, you don’t know what sort of shape you’re going to be in four years from now,” he said, noting younger lawmakers faced similar decisions centered around their careers.

Sen. Fred Madden’s retirement comes as Republicans seek to expand on their most recent wins in South Jersey. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Sen. Fred Madden

Madden (D-Gloucester) this week announced he would retire from lawmaking at the end of the year after nearly two decades in the state Senate.

The New Jersey State Police lieutenant colonel said he decided to forgo another term so he could spend more time with his wife and so that the two could travel the United States. Earlier cross-country trips had already won the couple friends from around the nation, he said.

“Before our end of days, we’d love to see every nook and cranny of our country,” Madden said. 

The senator, like some others, also expressed hesitancy at the prospect of committing to another four-year term and said he believes officials in positions of high responsibility should devote all their attention to them — something Madden was unsure he could deliver for nearly five more years. 

“I enjoy the job. I absolutely enjoy the people. I have an awesome staff. There’s nothing negative,” Madden said. “That was part of the challenge about moving on. You almost feel as though you’re quitting and walking away at some point, but the reality is you’re not. Nothing lasts forever.”

Madden’s retirement comes as South Jersey Democrats find themselves on their back foot following legislative losses in New Jersey’s 2nd and 3rd legislative districts in 2021. Those losses and others elsewhere in the state cost Democrats six Assembly seats and ousted former Sen. Steve Sweeney, who represented a district that borders Madden’s. 

It’s not clear who Democrats will run for Senate in Madden’s place in the 4th District, and Republicans are eyeing the district after a solid performance in the region in 2021. Democrats losing Madden, a 20-year incumbent, and redrawn lines that made the district slightly more Republican than it was two years ago will likely buoy GOP efforts to expand recent gains in South Jersey.

Madden’s retirement was first reported by the New Jersey Globe.

Hudson County Democratic officials want to replace Sen. Sandra B. Cunnigham with district mate Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. (Photo by Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office)

Sen. Sandra Cunningham

Cunningham (D-Hudson), who has been absent from the Statehouse for months due to health issues, is not expected to run for reelection.

The Hudson County Democratic Organization last week endorsed Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) for Cunningham’s Senate seat in the 31st District, meaning McKnight will compete in June’s primaries from an advantageous position on the ballot. The Democratic primary winner in this heavily blue district is expected to win easily in November.

The party organization’s announcement came coupled with quotes from prominent Hudson County Democrats, including Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis, who lamented Cunningham’s retirement. Cunningham, who has held her Senate seat since succeeding her late husband in November 2007, was not quoted on the release, nor has she publicly said she intends to retire.

She did not return a call seeking comment. 

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo is expected to win a spot on the Horizon board this year. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Essex) is expected to depart from the Legislature before this year’s elections. Gov. Phil Murphy nominated the eight-term lawmaker to a seat on the board of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey earlier this month.

State law bars Caputo from holding both positions, and he is expected to resign his Assembly seat once he is confirmed to the Horizon board.

Caputo is slated to fill the Horizon board seat currently held by Paul Juliano, the Bergen County Democratic chair. Juliano is headed to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to become that agency’s new president and CEO.

Similar moves aren’t uncommon in New Jersey, and Cassino said roles like the one Caputo is taking typically carry a lighter workload than what is borne by officeholders responsible for lawmaking and constituent services.

“We actually have a long tradition of kind of putting people out to pasture in these commissions or in boards or in local offices where things are going to be a little easier for them, and their expertise is still around if anyone needs them,” Cassino said.

Cassino noted that salaries for positions on state boards and commissions sometimes pay more than the state’s part-time Legislature. That’s true for Caputo, who would be paid $80,000 annually as a Horizon board member, up from the $49,000 salary earned by state lawmakers.

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey found her home moved into a new legislative district after the state’s district boundaries were redrawn. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

Assemblywoman Mila Jasey

Jasey’s retirement will conclude a nine-term career in the Assembly.

Jasey (D-Essex) said she wants to spend more time with her seven grandchildren and care for her 98-year-old mother.

“She’s winding down and requires more care. Before she calls it quits, I’d like to get more of her stories down. She has had a really interesting life — lived in different parts of the world and the states, had 11 children,” Jasey said. “I would never forgive myself if I didn’t get to create a record for all of us to enjoy and reflect on and share not just with our children but our grandchildren.”

Jasey, who chaired the chamber’s Education Committee, was redrawn into the 28th District when the state adopted a new legislative map in late 2021. Jasey was expected to sail through to another term in her new district, which is heavily Democratic, but the assemblywoman said the additional work entailed in introducing herself to a new electorate contributed to her decision to forgo a reelection campaign.

Politico New Jersey was first to report Jasey’s retirement.

Sen. Sam Thompson’s announcement that he would retire came after a dramatic switch to the Democratic Party. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Sen. Sam Thompson

Sen. Sam Thompson’s decision not to seek another term in the Senate came soon after he switched parties and became a Democrat after 25 years as a Republican lawmaker.

Thompson, 87, from Middlesex County, faced dim prospects for reelection as a Republican and was expected to lose the support of Republican county organizations in each of his district’s four counties, at best leaving him with a narrow and craggy path to a primary victory. 

Thompson said the push to oust him was based on his age, and he leveled the accusation on the Senate floor to a group of silent Republican Senators before jumping ship to the Democratic Party in mid-February.

In an about-face, he said he would not seek reelection two weeks later, after his political and policy positions — including support for former President Donald Trump and a less-than-liberal stance on abortion — caused friction with members of his new party.

He cited his wife’s advanced age and recent health issues when explaining his decision.

Assemblyman John Catalano is stepping down to run for mayor of Brick. (Hal Brown for New Jersey Monitor)

Assemblyman John Catalano

Assemblyman John Catalano (R-Ocean) will not seek reelection after two terms in the legislature.

Catalano will instead run in a special election for mayor of Brick against Lisa Crate, who Brick Democrats appointed to the seat after former Mayor John Ducey was confirmed as a Superior Court judge last month.

The two will compete for the roughly two remaining years of Ducey’s term.

Twelve other lawmakers have announced their intent to retire from the Legislature, and one more — Sen. Nia Gill or Sen. Richard Codey, both Essex Democrats — will lose their Senate seat during June’s primaries (Gill and Codey were redrawn into the same district, and both have signaled they intend to run):

  • Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Sussex)
  • Sen. Jean Stanfield (R-Burlington)
  • Sen. Chris Connors (R-Ocean)
  • Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Sussex)
  • Assemblywoman DeAnne DeFuccio (R-Bergen)
  • Assemblyman Kevin Rooney (R-Bergen)
  • Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson)
  • Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-Hudson)
  • Assemblyman Pedro Mejia (D-Hudson)
  • Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-Hudson)
  • Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Mercer)
  • Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-Somerset)


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.