Who will be the next generation of New Jersey's political leaders? Here are some likely candidates.
Some of the names you may already have heard of. If you haven’t yet, political observers from around New Jersey believe there is a good chance you may in the next five to 10 years, if not sooner. We contacted party leaders and elected officials from every corner of the state and asked them to tell us which elected or aspiring public officials, or those behind the scenes, were likely to emerge as the next generation of leaders at the regional and state levels and beyond. Most are under the age of 40; some who are a bit older but have entered the political arena relatively recently, also have made their way onto the list. We present our top dozen, and others to keep an eye on.
Taliaferro, a Democratic Gloucester County freeholder since 2011, was a star high school football player who went on to play at Penn State. He received a severe spinal cord injury that ended his playing days and he had to learn to walk again. He went on to earn a law degree at Rutgers-Camden and now works as a health care advocate for Bristol-Myers Squibb. Taliaferro, 31, also runs his own foundation, which helps student-athletes with head or spinal injuries. Last spring, he was elected to the Penn State board of trustees.
Save Jersey blog founder Matt Rooney, 28, of Collingswood has become an influential voice in the Republican Party. He has developed a following around the state due to his blog and activism. He has never made a bid for elective office, but one observer says “he has all the markings of someone who wants to run for office some day.” Rooney is an attorney with DeMichele & DeMichele in Haddon Heights.
If she is elected to the Assembly in the 8th Legislative District in November, she would be the first Republican Hispanic woman to serve in the Legislature. A 31-year-old resident of Evesham, she is the lead organizer of the Burlington County Young Republicans. She is a dental professional and will be graduating this spring from Rutgers-Camden with a degree in economics. In her spare time, she plays the pivot position for a team in the Penn Jersey Roller Derby league.
A 7th District Democratic assemblyman from Palmyra, Singleton, 39, was first elected to the Legislature in 2011. He is described by one party official as a “sharp guy, very aggressive on social media a la Cory Booker, a real up-and-comer.” He served previously on the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, as deputy executive director of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and as a trustee at his alma mater, Rowan University. He is president of the New Jersey Carpenter Contractor Trust.
Irene Kim Asbury
An outspoken Korean-American attorney and Republican state committeewoman who served on the state’s legislative redistricting commission. “One of the future leaders of the party,” a current leader said. Asbury, 39, is also bold. She ran for an Assembly seat in Hudson County in 2009 in a district in which registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans 8 to 1.
Asbury has also volunteered as a pro bono attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice and the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers’ Project, representing low-income Katrina victims. who cannot obtain housing, federal and state disaster assistance, financial counseling, or health care.
Casagrande, 36, an attorney from Colts Neck, Monmouth County, was the youngest woman ever elected to the state Assembly in 2007. Her name pops up in almost any conversation about up-and-coming New Jersey politicians. “Sincere, smart and hard-working. She can go as far as she wants to go,” one observer said. Improving the workplace for women and families has been a priority for Casagrande, a Republican, as have ethics reform, fiscal responsibility and tax relief.
Gill, 39, has worked in a lot of places for many prominent Democrats across the state. He is currently an Essex County freeholder and the state director for U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg. The latter role allows him to serve as a top adviser while running Lautenberg’s district offices. Gill also has worked as district director for Reps. Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman and chief of staff for Assemblyman Peter Eagler. Throw in his efforts to assist the campaigns of many elected officials, including Sen. Robert Menendez, and Gill’s immersion in the party likely will serve him well in the future.
When he was elected the mayor of Roselle in 2011, he became the youngest mayor in the borough's history. In 2004, his election victory as a Roselle councilman made him the youngest councilman in Union County. Prior to that, Holley, a Democrat, was appointed chief of staff for the state’s deputy majority leader, making him the youngest chief of staff in New Jersey for any of the state’s 120 legislators. “There is no doubt that bigger and better things are ahead for Jamel,” one top party official said. Holley, 33, is president of his own public affairs firm.
Jeffries, a graduate of Duke and Columbia Law School, will be seeking to succeed Cory Booker as mayor of Newark in 2014. A fifth-generation resident of Newark, he was raised by his grandmother after his mother was murdered. In 2008, Jeffries, 38, took a leave of absence from his job as a professor at Seton Hall Law School to serve as an assistant state attorney general under Attorney General Anne Milgram. Jeffries, a Democrat, also has served as president of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board.
A Democrat, Lempert, 44, recently became the first mayor of newly consolidated Princeton. She previously served on the Princeton Township Committee. A Stanford graduate, Lempert worked as a writer, producer and editor for the National Public Radio program “Living On Earth” before taking time off to raise her children. She first became involved in local politics as co-chair of the Mercer4Obama campaign. She is a founding member of the grass-roots public school advocacy group Save Our Schools-N.J.
Hunterdon County’s Republican freeholder-director comes from staunchly conservative territory, and is emerging as one of the state’s leading voices for consolidation — and we’re not just talking about joint salt purchases and shared road graders. Walton is willing to tackle the big-ticket items like police departments and entire towns. He’s in the right county to talk that kind of talk — mostly rural Hunterdon already boasts plenty of regionalization, but Walton, 41, wants to push it further by creating a single countywide school district. He exhibits a boldness that may lead him up the ladder.
As up-and-comers go, Webber, a Republican assemblyman from Morris County, is more of a high-and-nearly there type. After all, it wasn’t even three years ago when Webber was named one of Time Magazine’s “40 under 40” group of rising young civic leaders. He is a sharp high-achiever with premium educational chops — a bachelor’s from Johns Hopkins and a degree from Harvard Law School — and a conservative bent that will always play well with the base. He remains one to watch. “Jay is one of the brightest people in the Assemby. He will not only be a leader here in New Jersey but will also be a voice within the national Republican Party.”