Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential campaign is sucking up all the electoral oxygen. But the race to replace him is on. One of the biggest names being bandied about as a top contender is the second-longest serving lawmaker in the state. NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron sat down with State Sen. Ray Lesniak to find out if the rumors are true.
Aron: Senator, are you a candidate for governor in 2017?
Lesniak: Well I certainly would like to be. If I get the support that’s necessary to run for governor, that’s what I’m going to do.
Aron: What kind of support? What’s necessary?
Lesniak: I need thousands of people behind me and what I need to do for the state of New Jersey to recognize what I’ve done for the state. People who want a fighter. New Jersey needs a fighter. Gov. Christie fights for himself. I’m going to fight for the state.
Aron: There are at least three, maybe four other Democrats.
Lesniak: The more the merrier.
Lesniak: Absolutely. Because I’m going right to the people. So I don’t have to rely necessarily on any particular political support. I plan on relying on people who support what I intend to do and what I’ve done for the state of New Jersey.
Aron: What’s the biggest problem New Jersey faces?
Lesniak: Well obviously fiscal integrity. So we need to get our financial house in order, but we need to do so many other things. We have to rebuild our criminal justice system from top to bottom. We have to build our infrastructure for sure. We have to have somebody fighting, for instance, to knock out that Exxon settlement so we can get that money into the state. We have to fight for sports betting. I’ve been fighting for that. Biggest problem is we don’t have anybody standing up for New Jersey and I intend to be that person.
Aron: Are you for higher taxes or lower taxes?
Lesniak: All politicians are for lower taxes, however we have to face reality. We can adjust the tax code. I do support the millionaires tax, but I would also eliminate the estate tax. That’s what’s driving wealthy people out of New Jersey whom we want to keep here.
Aron: You have a 37 year record in Trenton. That’s pretty easy for opposition research to attack, find the controversial votes. It’s also said that your law firm has a lot of work with public entities in the state. More fodder for opponents. How do you respond to that observation?
Lesniak: I say bring it on. Welcome. I’m going to be talking about what matters to the people. People want real solutions. They want a fighter. So they can throw whatever they want at me. It’s not going to matter because I’m standing up for the people.
Aron: Somebody said to me this morning this is Lesniak swinging for the fences at the end of a long career. How do you respond to that observation?
Lesniak: What I’m doing is swinging for the people of the state of New Jersey. And I plan on hitting a grand slam.
Aron: The other possible candidates are Steve Sweeney, Steve Fulop, Philip Murphy, John Wisniewski. Insiders I spoke to today said your entering into the race, that’s fine with Sweeney because you’re another North Jersey Democrat like Fulop and you would cut into Fulop’s support in North Jersey. Do you see it that way?
Lesniak: I don’t. I don’t at all. The way I see it is, a voter is a voter for me whether it’s in South Jersey, North Jersey, rural, urban, it doesn’t matter. I’m going after people based on what they want to see for the state of New Jersey regardless of where they live.
Aron: Are you surprised to hear that the Sweeney camp is a little bit more sanguine about your candidacy than the Fulop camp this morning?
Lesniak: I can’t say what they feel or care about my candidacy. What I care about is my message that I’m a fighter for the people of the state of New Jersey.
Aron: When I called you this morning you were in the middle of a Spanish lesson. You studied French for years wanting to be the ambassador to France we thought under Bill Clinton perhaps.
Lesniak: Under Al Gore it would’ve been.
Aron: Under Al Gore. But now you’ve switched to Spanish. Does that have to do with running for governor?
Lesniak: My district is 65 percent Hispanic. Since I do speak French, I thought it would be a good thing for me to be able to communicate in another language, a language which the majority of my district is composed of.
Aron: So this is about your district, not about the state?
Lesniak: It’s about the state as well. We are a multicultural society. We have to be able to communicate in many different ways and that’s how you win elections and that’s how you get things done as well.
Aron: You’re well known in the political world. If you have to introduce yourself to the wider world of New Jersey, how do you describe who Ray Lesniak is?
Lesniak: I’m Ray Lesniak. I’ve always been a fighter. I’ve delivered for New Jersey. I’ve promoted and sponsored the most far reaching environmental protection laws in the nation and if you want a fighter on your side and what we need, you’ll support Ray Lesniak for governor. If I decide to run.
Aron: That’s still an if?
Lesniak: Well sure it’s an if because I will run if I get the support of the public behind me, which I do expect to have.
Aron: And how will you know when you have that?
Lesniak: When the numbers come in. When folks line up and say they want Ray Lesniak to be the next governor of the state of New Jersey.
Aron: Senator, thank you and good luck.
Lesniak: Well my pleasure and thank you very much.