Sen. Nicholas Scutari – a Union County lawmaker and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee – has been voted in as the head of the state Senate after the current titleholder, Stephen Sweeney, was unseated from his district in an upset election.
The Senate Democratic Caucus voted Friday morning to tap Scutari as the next Senate president, but he must still be formally selected at a Jan. 11 legislative reorganization meeting.
“I am honored to win the support of my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Majority to serve as Senate president,” Scutari said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the diverse and talented group of senators in the Democratic caucus and with other top state leaders to implement policies needed to address the needs of all the people of New Jersey. Every voice will be heard as we work to serve the priorities of each community and every resident.”
In announcing Scutari’s appointment on Friday, the caucus also said it chose Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz of the 29th Distrcit as Senate majority leader and Sen. Sandra Cunningham of the 31st District to be Senate president pro tempore.
Ruiz’s appointment makes her the highest-ranking Latina in the history of the New Jersey Legislature.
Sweeney lost his seat in the Third Legislative District to commercial truck driver and Republican Ed Durr, who has never held a seat in public office and spent only a few grand in his bid.
Nia Gill, a state senator for Essex County, also threw her hat in the ring to be Senate leader, stressing that the selection process is far from over and criticizing what she said has been an opaque procedure transpiring behind closed doors.
“Though we are one of the most diverse states in the nation, we have never had diversity in the Senate presidency,” she said according to Insider NJ.
The position has been held exclusively by white men.
Sweeney’s loss marked an upheaval to a long-established statewide political machine.
Sweeney served as Senate president since 2010, becoming one of the – if not the most – powerful lawmakers in New Jersey. He is a key ally for George Norcross, a South Jersey Democratic power broker who himself is considered the most powerful unelected person in the state.
Scutari, like his future counterpart in the upper house Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District, hails from Central Jersey. His tenure in the state Senate began in 2004, representing the 22nd Legislative District.
As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he held sway over any political appointees. And, Scutari was one of the key sponsors and backers of the sluggish efforts to legalize cannabis for recreational use in New Jersey.
Editor’s note: The news of Scutari’s appointment was initially attributed to political news outlet New Jersey Globe and several other media reports; an official announcement was put out by the New Jersey Senate Democrats and the story was updated at 2:24 p.m. EST on Nov. 12, 2021, to reflect that and include additional remarks.