A longtime political insider who championed the gas tax hike and earned millions of dollars from taxpayer funded legal contracts is gearing up to challenge a Wall Street tycoon who has plotted to take Gov. Chris Christie’s place, as the two men battle over the Democratic nomination for governor.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), the chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, has represented Middlesex County in Trenton for 21 years and now the Democrat says he is ready to be governor.
One of the earliest advocates of a gasoline tax increase, Wisniewski proposed raising it by 25 cents a gallon then he opposed the measure signed into law this year.
“That translates to about 50 cents a day for the average driver in New Jersey. That’s $180 a year. That has to be compared by looking at the cost of driving in New Jersey. It has to be compared to the $600-$1,200 a year that some estimate is the cost that people pay to maintain their vehicles because of the poor condition of our infrastructure,” said Wisniewski, describing two bills he proposed in August 2015.
One bill would have increased the tax on petroleum products gross receipts from 4 cents per gallon to 9 percent of the average retail price of unleaded regular gasoline. Another measure would have dedicated that all of the new revenue collected through a gas tax hike be used just to fund the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.
When lawmakers approved the measure raising gas taxes by 23 cents a gallon earlier this year, Wisniewski voted against the measure.
Wisniewski is hoping to stop former Goldman Sachs partner Philip Murphy, who has already secured support among most party bosses after spending more than $12 million pursuing the office in the year before the election.
“Although I have not committed to the ambassador, I have learned that Phil Murphy is hard-working, dedicated, charismatic, and likable,” said Carteret Mayor Dan Reiman. “John Wisniewski is none of those things.”
Reiman confirmed reports that Wisniewski’s law firm represents US Metals, the biggest polluter in Carteret, and Buckeye Partners, a fossil fuel company responsible for more than 6,200 miles pipelines that bought the Perth Amboy refinery from Chevron in 2012.
“John Wisniewski has had two decades as an Assemblyman to show us his progressive values, to date he has failed,” said Democratic State Party Chairman John Currie
Murphy spokesman Derek Roseman took jabs at his two-decade career as a lawmaker, saying: “The simple fact is that John Wisniewski is a transactional Trenton politician; he is far from a reformer.”
While Wisniewski has been unable to enact a bill that would raise New Jersey’s minimum wage to $15 from its current level of $8.38, he has generated millions of dollars in personal income from no-bid contracts with taxpayer funded government entities and clients with business before his legislative committee.
While Wisniewski is counting on a brief flirtation with progressive politics, most of the Democrats who know him best are taking a pass on his candidacy.
Wisniewski endorsed Rep. Donald Norcross — the brother of South Jersey political boss George Norcross III — despite the candidacy of Alex Law, a progressive challenger who supported Bernie Sanders for president, who waged a grassroots effort in the first congressional district.
The incumbent congressman has the most conservative voting record in the New Jersey Democratic delegation.
As yet unannounced gubernatorial candidate Lisa McCormick, a good government activist who has rallied against corruption and the unfair impact of the financial crisis on working Americans, says she would not consider supporting Wisniewski because he is not a genuine progressive.
“I am offended that an anti-abortion lawmaker who has embraced crooked political bosses and loaded up on multiple taxpayer funded jobs is trying to pass himself off as a progressive,” said McCormick. “Hiring consultants who worked for the Vermont senator’s presidential campaign does not make him Bernie Sanders, and I am confident most of the state’s Bernie supporters will back my campaign.”
Other New Jersey “Berniecrats” have questioned Wisniewski’s motives for joining the Sanders campaign,noting that Clinton’s landslide victory here revealed a weak effort.
“John Wisniewski appeared to take part in the Bernie Sanders movement exclusively for his own gain,” former congressional candidate Alex Law wrote in a Facebook post. “He only participated in Bernie Sanders events that allowed him to speak and build his own name recognition, giving no time to what should have been the backbone: volunteer-driven organizing.”
Wisniewski voted at least three times to outlaw abortion and twice he voted to impose restrictions on women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. McCormick said the right of women to control their own bodies is a matter of human rights, which demands strong and courageous leadership.
The anti-abortion laws Wisniewski supported were later declared unconstitutional after challenges were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, but this voting record may be an issue as Wisniewski enters the fray as a candidate for governor in the 2017 Democratic primary.
At the same time, Wisniewski and his law firm have doled out more than $50,000 in donations to political groups and candidates in towns that awarded those contracts, according to reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. That amount does not reflect donations made by any of several PACs and committees controlled by the assemblyman.
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