POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Assembly Dems Likely to Choose Prieto to Replace Oliver as Speaker

By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
NJ Today

Assemblyman Vincent Prieto never announced he wants to be speaker, he just worked it quietly.

The five-term Cuban-American from Secaucus and current Assembly Budget Committee chairman is poised to take over as speaker if Democrats hold on to their majority in next month’s election.

“At this point in time I can tell you I am basically running or seeking the position and trying to gain the support, and hopefully it would be there,” Prieto said.

The current speaker, Sheila Oliver, was traveling today — ironically to a conference of state assembly speakers in Los Angeles.

Reached by phone, she sounded philosophical about being eased aside.

She said she always tells her members, “No one’s name is on the speaker’s gavel. It’s a great deal of work,” she said, “a 24-7 job, and if there’s a dynamic going in another direction, I’m not gonna lose any sleep over it.”

When asked if he has spoken with Oliver about the issue, Prieto said, “We’ve had conversations. The one thing that I stressed I want to make sure our friendship stays there number one, and this is just how politics works.”

Oliver has a second job working for Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who put her in the top Assembly job four years ago in a deal with South Jersey power-broker George Norcross.

Now, Norcross has cut a deal with Hudson County potentate Sen. Nick Sacco that excludes Essex County.

Norcross still likes DiVincenzo, says a knowledgeable source, but is frustrated by DiVincenzo’s inability to control all 12 Essex County legislators to get things done that are important to Norcross, like Rutgers University governance reform and school vouchers.

“I wouldn’t look at it that way. Hudson has had a relationship with the South, you know as me ascending to the budget chair. You saw two years ago we have a great relationship with Essex, I can only speak for myself. I think this is about the whole state of New Jersey, ” Prieto said.

Two hours after we spoke to him, Prieto and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald put out a statement saying they have 41 votes now in the Democratic caucus, the number needed to make Prieto speaker.

“From what I hear, Vinnie has a very good chance to become the speaker. I think they’re crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s,” Congressman Bill Pascrell said.

Traditionally the legislative caucuses reorganize and elect new leaders on the Thursday two days after Election Day. It’s very likely Vinny Prieto will be elected Assembly speaker on that day.