Courtesy of Courier News/mycentraljersey.com October 7th, 2016 EDITORIAL:
Keith Muccilli/Staff Photographer
Jack Ciattarelli made it official this week with the announcement that he is running for governor in 2017.
We’re pleased to see him in the race. He will be worth hearing throughout the campaign, and we hope his candidacy gains enough traction to keep him in the spotlight for awhile.
But the road ahead is a daunting one for the Republican assemblyman from the 16th Legislative District, which covers parts of four Central Jersey counties. New Jersey is historically tough on incumbent parties when picking a new governor, and Gov. Chris Christie’s failings are effectively salting the earth behind him for any would-be GOP successor.
Ciattarelli also isn’t likely to be anointed by the Republican establishment in a primary that may include Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and possibly Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (Joey Rullo of Little Egg Harbor has also filed papers to run).
That, however, is part of Ciattarelli’s charm. While he is a skilled politician who has worked his way up through the freeholder ranks in the powerful Somerset County Republican machine,
Ciattarelli’s not your standard party mouthpiece. He has defied Christie on occasion, publicly criticized him, and overall presented himself as one of the few adults in a GOP room full of legislators scared to cross the governor.
There’s also a faint Mr. Smith Goes to Washington vibe about Ciattarelli, but only if Mr. Smith had repeatedly bashed his head against a wall to no avail trying to get things done. Ciattarelli’s no rube, but he has managed to maintain a refreshing hope in the promise of Republicans and Democrats finding common ground in logical solutions despite his disenchantment with the internal political processes in Trenton.
Ciattarelli doesn’t wield much Statehouse influence, the fate of a minority-party member who doesn’t always toe the line in his own caucus. He has devoted himself mostly to smaller issues or district-specific concerns on which he feels he can make a difference; championing more flood relief for Manville, for instance, or promoting legislation to expand opportunities for high school varsity letters beyond sports.
But a sense of futility in the Assembly has inspired him, he says, to seek a new “perch” to try to bring change. And with his eye on the governor’s office Ciattarelli has again started plotting bigger-picture concepts, including a well-conceived multi-point plan to reform school funding and ease the state’s pension burden that should serve as a framework for any reform plans moving forward.
If Ciattarelli does win the Republican primary, he’d face an even bigger challenge from the survivor of a potentially crowded Democratic field. Phil Murphy tops the Dem charts at the moment as a Jon Corzineesque wealthy, self-funded candidate who also received a surprise endorsement from a presumed top challenger, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. But some other major players still lurk unannounced, including Sen. Raymond Lesniak and Assemblyman John Wisniewski.
Regardless of whether you view Ciattarelli as a truly serious candidate, we recommend listening to what he has to say. It will be worth the effort.