Longtime state Sen. Dick Codey won’t seek reelection

The former governor and Senate president has spent 50 years in Trenton

By: - August 14, 2023 2:20 pm

Sen. Dick Codey said it's "time for me to say goodbye" to the Legislature, where he has served for five decades. (Courtesy of Codey's office)

State Sen. Dick Codey, the longest-serving legislator in New Jersey history and a former governor, announced Monday he will not seek another term in November after half a century in the Statehouse, capping a career for the Essex County Democrat that reached the heights of political power in the Garden State.

“It’s time for me to say goodbye,” Codey said in a statement. “My service to the state of New Jersey and its great people will end when this legislative session concludes at the end of the year.”

Cody’s retirement announcement comes roughly two months after Codey defeated Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex) in a primary fight in the 27th Legislative District — redistricting put both their homes in the same district — and it will give Democratic Party leaders a chance to pick Codey’s replacement on November’s ballot.

He is the second Democrat in the last month to announce his retirement after winning their June primary. Assemblyman Joe Egan said in July he is stepping down after the legislative session ends (Democrats are replacing him on the November ballot with his son, New Brunswick Councilman Kevin Egan).

Codey, who served more than a year as the state’s governor following Gov. Jim McGreevey’s 2004 resignation, has represented the 27th District in the Senate since 1982 and represented the 26th District in the Assembly between then and 1974.

He also served as acting governor for a brief period following Gov. Christine Todd Whitman’s 2001 resignation.

Codey, 76, stressed his retirement is not health related despite an illness that caused him to miss some recent voting sessions.

“I’m not sick. I’m not dying or any of that bullshit,” Codey told the New Jersey Monitor, adding in a statement that he is “lucky and grateful to have my health.”

Codey said he will remain active in politics through campaign contributions and occasional appearances at political events, but signaled he would devote more of his time to his family and businesses.

“I got a funeral business, insurance business, three grandchildren, and a wife,” he said. “I’m not staying home.”

As governor and Senate president — positions Codey held concurrently for a time — he passed and signed New Jersey’s pay-to-play law, which limits the availability of public contracts for vendors who make campaign contributions.

He also signed New Jersey’s Smoke-Free Air Act, which banned indoor smoking in all indoor spaces except casinos and their simulcasting facilities.

“Public service is about making a difference in the lives of people. It’s about working together to create a better future for everyone,” Codey said in the statement. “I’ll miss that — the hope and promise of doing something great for people every day. And I’ll miss you — the people who voted for me and the people who didn’t.”

Top lawmakers from both sides of the aisle met news of Codey’s retirement with plaudits for the longtime lawmaker.

Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), who returned Codey to the ranks of Senate leadership 12 years following his ouster at the hands of former Sen. Steve Sweeney, called Codey one of the most accomplished legislators in state history.

“Dick Codey always put the people of New Jersey first and he measured success by the progress achieved for those in need,” Scutari said. “For Dick, a ‘bleeding heart’ is not a derisive phrase, but a way of life.”

Others, including Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Sussex), who is also not seeking reelection, recalled Codey’s deftness as a legislator and his humor, which the Republican said Codey used to diffuse fraught debates. Codey’s humor persisted in his announcement Monday.

“Now, listen, before you get any ideas, no, I am not dying … but if you or someone you know is, please call Codey Funeral Home in Caldwell or Codey & Mackey in Boonton,” he said in the statement.

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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.