Nia Gill vs. Richard Codey? Montclair’s move to new legislative district could set up the battle
By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
Going forward, Montclair will find itself in a newly configured 27th Legislative District — which could potentially pit state Sens. Nia Gill and Richard Codey against one another in a 2023 Democratic primary.
Gill, a member of the Senate since 2002 and an Assembly member for eight years prior to that, currently represents the 34th Legislative District (which includes Montclair, her hometown and continued place of residence). She told Montclair Local Friday she intends to run again in 2023, on or off the party line.
But Codey — a former governor, state Senate president, minority leader and assemblyman with a half-century in the Legislature — held off on any commitment about his plans for the next election. He said only that he's always loved Montclair, and would engage with it as completely as he could, should he choose to run.
"It's obviously an odd situation," he said of the reconfiguration, part of a reshuffling of districts throughout New Jersey by the state Legislative Apportionment Commission Friday. The map passed with a 9-2 bipartisan vote among commission members, with Republican Tom Kean Jr. and Democrat Cosmo Cirilo voting against it.
“We leave here knowing what can be accomplished when we simply work together,” commission co-Chair LeRoy Jones said of the compromise between delegations from the two parties, according to InsiderNJ. “Different parties, but the same fight.”
In a separate piece, InsiderNJ described Gill as "an apparent casualty of the map," noting a history between Gill and Jones that goes back to 2003, when Jones (then an assemblyman) challenged Gill in a party primary for the state Senate seat. Jones, now the Essex County Democratic chairman, ran on the party line at the time, and Gill without the party's backing for the primary. She beat Jones by 1,000 votes.
"I've run on the line; I've run off the line. That never changes. I'll do what I have to do," she said.
The new 27th District is made up of Montclair, Livingston, Millburn, West Orange, Roseland (where Codey lives) and Clifton. The current 34th it replaces is composed of Montclair, East Orange, Orange and Clifton. In either configuration, Montclair is in solidly Democratic territory — making primary races those likely to decide who'll represent the area in the Legislature.
The redistricting has implications for local representation in the Assembly as well. Current 34th District incumbent Thomas P. Giblin, a Montclair resident, can run in the new 27th. But Britnee Timberlake, as an East Orange resident, finds herself in a new version of the 34th without Montclair (with East Orange, Belleville, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Orange and Nutley), and could be a contender for a Senate seat there.
Assemblyman John McKeon of West Orange — a longtime running mate of Codey's — now finds himself in the new 27th. Some insiders expected him to seek a state Senate seat in 2023 as well.
Voters will continue to be served by their current legislators until the next election.
Political news site New Jersey Globe, in describing the potential showdown between Gill and Codey, said the latter would likely get the party line — putting him on a ticket with Giblin and McKeon.
"But in a district comprised of diversifying and increasingly progressive suburbs, an all-white-male ticket whose youngest member is 63 might seem an odd fit," the Globe wrote. "That leaves a potential opening for Gill, whose quixotic bid for the Senate presidency last month shows she’s no stranger to uphill campaigns."
(A coalition of Black and Latino leaders had called on the Legislature to select a person of color as the next state Senate president. Gill, who is Black, announced her candidacy the next day. Ultimately, party favorite Nicholas Scutari took an easy win for the seat.)
Codey, holding off on saying whether he'd run and noting there are 21 months before the next general election for the state Senate seat, said he had great affection for Montclair. His family once had a funeral home there, and he spent much of his younger childhood around the town, he said.
Gill said she's prepared to take on whatever combination of candidates lines up.
"It's about the people and the issues," she said. "That's what I always fought for and stood for. Part of democracy is that things like this happen. People run for office, and more than one person runs for the same office — and that's just how it is sometimes."
The redistricting process occurs every 10 years, prompted by each new Census. For Montclair, an analogous process at the municipal level raised the eventually put-aside possibility of substantially redrawing the borders of the township's Fourth Ward — a move several local leaders said would have been bad for diversity, pulling white and affluent residents out of the ward that's home to the township's greatest concentrations of Black and brown residents.
And that redrawn map, in turn, would have lined up closely with a recent reworking of congressional districts. Montclair had already been split between the 11th District (in the north of town) and the 10th (in the south). More of Montclair joined the 11th (one of the richest districts in the country), but most of the Fourth Ward remains in the more urban and majority-Black 10th.