Buono Keeps Lieutenant Governor Choice Close to the Vest

By David Cruz
NJ Today

If Barbara Buono has made a lieutenant governor pick, it is the best kept secret of this campaign. Who will the Democrat choose as her lieutenant governor, and what statement she can make with her first major campaign decision?

“She needs someone who could help her with fundraising, whether that’s an independently wealthy self-funding candidate that would be ideal, or someone with heavy party ties to help her bring in money,” says PolitcikerNJ Editor Darryl Isherwood. “Obviously that’s been one of the problems in this campaign.”

Isherwood says there’s plenty of talk about Buono picking a minority candidate, specifically an African-American. If she goes that route, she might consider someone like Newark Councilman Ron Rice, who has hinted that he’s ready to move on from Newark’s hectic political scene. Rice told us today he had not been contacted but would take the call. Another name being mentioned is Roselle Mayor Jamel Holley, who’s profile has been rising state-wide and who has hosted several Buono events in his town.

“I mean I would definitely have to consider it, and take time and sit down and talk with my family, talk to my team, talk to my supporters here in Roselle,” said Holley. “We’re approaching my second year as mayor and I’ve been a councilman here for seven years, so it’s going to take a lot for me to consider.”

At 33, Holley’s a bit young, say some Democrats, and might not be seen as someone who could step into the big chair right away. One of the most intriguing names that has been mentioned is former state Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, who you might remember was the state’s first black Supreme Court justice until Gov. Chris Christie refused to reappoint him in 2010. This pick would definitely get some buzz in political circles says Isherwood.

“It would have people talking immediately,” he says. “It would bring back all that conversation about Christie and race relations and why he failed to renominate the only African-American Supreme Court member and also just the fact that, in some people’s eyes, he politicized the Supreme Court.”

Wallace is in private practice nowadays and did not return calls, but the name did have some Democrats we talked to excited. But in the age of gender balance, would Buono consider a female running mate? The first Democrat to run for lieutenant governor says that would be a gutsy move.

“When we had male in the top position as governor, it was taken for granted that he would appoint a woman, but now that we have a woman there, could she appoint another woman?” asks Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who ran with Jon Corzine in 2009. “So, I think there are some other challenges there for her as being the first Democratic woman candidate for governor.”

One prominent Democrat joked today that, down 30 points in the polls, Buono might be having a difficult time finding a willing running mate. A Buono spokesperson didn’t think that joke was funny and said that, while they haven’t yet spoken to anyone officially, the list of potential candidates is, in fact, long.