With Sen. Robert Menendez reportedly facing indictment on criminal charges, Democrats in New Jersey could be facing a big political problem, The New York Times
That is, according to the Times, as the Garden State has become increasingly Democratic in political makeup, the Democratic Party has generally stayed with a small number of long-serving officials like Menendez.
Menendez has vowed to fight the charges, which involve his relationship with a political benefactor, Florida eye surgeon Salomon Melgen, and are reportedly scheduled to be handed down within a month.
Depending on the seriousness of the allegations, he could come under pressure to resign.
Most Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey have only left office as a result of criminal investigation, personal impropriety or death.
Former Gov. Richard Codey — a state senator who became acting governor in 2004 when incumbent Democratic Gov. James McGreevey resigned during a scandal involving sexual blackmail — said the state party was in "a very confused state."
The Menendez case "could take years to play out, and I don't see Sen. Menendez as someone who would just lay down and walk away," Codey said, adding that he supports the state's senior senator and regards him as honest.
Speaking of the New Jersey Democratic Party, Codey opined that "there are times when we take the 'fun' out of the 'dysfunctional.'"
Until now, when hit by political disaster in recent years, Democrats have had a replacement candidate available.
When a mushrooming ethics investigation in 2002 threatened to lead to the defeat of incumbent Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli and enable the GOP to win a Senate election for the first time in 30 years, Democrats easily persuaded Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg to come out of retirement and take Torricelli's place.
Lautenberg held the seat for Democrats until his death two years ago.
The party then turned to Newark Mayor Cory Booker to keep the seat in the Democrats' hands.
For close to a decade, state Democrats relied on Jon Corzine
, a former Goldman Sachs executive who was elected to the state’s other Senate seat in 2000 and elected governor in 2005.
Menendez, a veteran congressman, was appointed to the Senate to fill out the final year of Corzine's term before winning election in 2006 and 2012. Corzine was defeated for re-election in 2009.
What the Times described as a game of "electoral musical chairs" has done little to help state Democrats develop a deeper political bench.
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