BY TOM HESTER SR.
Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden) told South Jersey political leaders Wednesday that he will not seek re-election to the Assembly on Nov. 3.
Roberts, 57, of Camden, told The Star-Ledger after the meeting in Cherry Hill that he would not immediately rule out seeking a seat in the state Senate held by Sen. Dana Redd (D-Camden), who is running for mayor of Camden. The Assemblyman said he would speak more about his future at a 2 p.m. press conference at the Statehouse.
Roberts has served 11 terms — 22 years — in the Assembly. He has been speaker since 2007, a position that makes him the third most powerful official in the state government. He was Democratic majority leader from 2002 to 2006.Following the meeting in Cherry Hill, Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden) indicated Roberts does not have an interest in the Senate.
"Joe is not going to go away,'' Greenwald told The Star-Ledger. "Joe is not going to be in the Legislature but he's not going to go away. He is going to be a tremendous asset for the causes he believes in such as property tax reform and health care for children with autism.''
If Roberts is interested, the position of commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs is open. It was vacated July 23 when Joseph V. Doria resigned after federal agents searched his Trenton office and Bayonne home as part of a bribery and money laundering sting that netted 44 people. Doria has not been charged in the case.Donald Norcross, co-chairman of the Camden County Democratic Party, is expected to replace Roberts on the ballot and run on the same ticket as Camden city council president Angel Fuentes. Norcross is the brother of George Norcross, the South Jersey Democratic leader.
Roberts has pushed for better health care, had some success in helping to provide affordable housing, and has unsuccessfully sought to bring about property tax reform.
The entire Assembly is up for re-election on Nov. 3 and the Democrats are attempting the retain control of the lower house. They presently hold a 48-32 margin.
If the Democrats retain control, Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D-Mercer) would be first in line to be speaker unless she is challenged by another Democrat. If the Republicans gain control, Republican Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Morris) would be first in line for the position.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is not up for re-election but there could be a fight for the position of president. Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) is considering challenging Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) for the spot. Codey has been president for nearly eight years.
Commenting on Roberts' decision not to seek re-election, Codey said indicated he expects to retain the Senate presidency when the upper house reorganizes in January.
"Joe Roberts leadership and commitment will be sorely missed in Trenton. He has been one of the most steadfast and dedicated public servants that Trenton has seen in nearly a quarter of a century. Joe has been a fierce advocate for his constituents, particularly those that are underserved. His commitment to the causes he believes in, such as property tax relief, affordable housing and autism services have been admirable.
"While there were times when we had policy differences, they never became personal and Joe and I always got along.'' Codey said. "Joe was the consummate legislator and a true gentleman to work with whose sole goal was always to help the citizens of New Jersey. I have been very fortunate to be able to say that, like Congressman Albio Sires before him, Joe is a friend. The next Assembly Speaker will have large shoes to fill and I look forward to continuing the working relationship Joe and I forged as Speaker and Senate President with the next Speaker.
Reacting to Roberts decision to quit the Assembly, Gov. Jon Corzine said, "Joe Roberts has served the people of New Jersey, led the Assembly, and most important, served his constituents with dedication and distinction for more than 20 years. His tireless advocacy for providing tax relief to our citizens and helping New Jersey's most vulnerable, such as kids with autism and families needing affordable housing, is a legacy that will stand the test of time.
"We will all miss his strong leadership and steady hand, and I will miss his friendship,'' the governor said. "I am very confident that our partnership with the Democratic delegation will continue to lead New Jersey through this national economic crisis and protect our children, families and communities in the process."