POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Asm. Joe Lagana chosen to replace outgoing Sen. Bob Gordon

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Democratic state Sen. Bob Gordon is being nominated by the governor for a seat on the Board of Public utilities, or BPU, a full-time job.

The website, Insider NJ, broke the story two days ago that Gordon’s Assembly mates, Tim Eustace and Joe Lagana, both wanted to succeed Gordon. Bergen County Democratic chair, Lou Stellato, controls that decision.

Stellato sat down with the two assemblymen Tuesday afternoon at party headquarters in Hackensack to figure it out.

“I imagine there are 20 other county chairmen who would like to have the same dilemma I have with two excellent assemblymen, and either one of them would be an excellent Senate replacement,” said Stellato.

Stellato chose Lagana, a 39-year-old lawyer, who has been in the Legislature since 2014. At his law office in Secaucus on Wednesday, Lagana was modest about his good fortune.

“I think that we had an honest conversation between me and Tim, and the chairman, and I think that we each laid out what our strengths were,” said Lagana.

Eustace put out a statement Wednesday morning saying:

“I have seen firsthand the tenaciousness with which Joe Lagana has fought for the people he serves … and I am proud to give him my full support to be our next state senator in the 38th district.”

Eustace would have become the first openly gay member of the Senate, if he had been chosen. But, Lagana said a source has done a fantastic job cultivating relationships, and that’s what carried the day.

“I think that maybe coming from Paramus, coming from one of the big towns in the district, and having a majority of the county committee votes. It’s really a numbers game at that point. It’s mathematics,” said Lagana.

Normally, the senior assemblyman would be tapped to move up, and Eustace has been there six years to Lagana’s four.

“The seniority was only a couple of years, number one, and number two, Joe being from a town two or three times the size of Maywood makes a difference as well,” said Stellato.

“Seniority is something that should be considered, but it’s not the only thing. We both had our strengths,” said Lagana.

Tuesday, Gov. Murphy was questioned about whether or not he would appoint Sen. Gordon to the BPU. He wouldn’t say.

“I’ve seen these reports, when we’re ready to make announcements, I promise you we’ll make them. But, we’re not making any personnel announcements today, but thank you for asking,” said Murphy.

Wednesday morning, Gordon drove down to Trenton and submitted his Senate resignation letter, effective noon Wednesday. Stellato says the BPU is right up Gordon’s alley.

“I think it’s a perfect position for Sen. Gordon. He’s been a policy wonk all his life, and I think it’s a perfect fit for him,” said Stellato.

And, it pays better.

“As you get into your 60s, longevity is not as important as getting the pension built.” said Stellato.

Murphy is expected to announce Gordon’s appointment to the BPU Thursday. Assemblyman Lagana is expected to become Sen. Lagana at a swearing-in next week.