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Influencers: New Jersey [Campaigns & Elections]
[September 13, 2011]

Influencers: New Jersey [Campaigns & Elections]

(Campaigns & Elections Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Politics in the Garden State is shaped significantly by its geography. With no major media market of its own- the vast majority of the state is covered by the New York and Philadelphia markets- it's tough and expensive for a politician to become known statewide.

The only public official who can continually command that attention with relative ease: Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Powerful New Jersey Democrats, by contrast, are currently dispersed among the state's 21 counties. It's a dynamic that plays a key role in the state's regional political power structure.

A list of the state's most powerful political actors follows. It excludes elected officials and instead emphasizes the lesser-known, behindthe-scenes players. It is by no means exclusive, but if you want to know who has influence in New Jersey politics these days, it's a good start.

TOP TEN Republicans Rich Bagger Gov. Christie was universally praised for luring the former legislator away from a major executive position at Pfizer to be his chief of staff. He has a hand in every front office decision, especially in dealing with the Democraticled legislature.

Jeff Chiesa Chief counsel to Christie and part of his inner circle. Although there were some stumbles at the beginning of Christie's term when a few executive orders were ruled illegal by state courts, the mistakes appear to have been long forgotten.

Mary Pat Christie The first lady has been an integral part of the governor's inner circle throughout his career. Though publicly quiet and unassuming, she has a strong voice when it comes to fundraising and major political decisions.

Todd Christie From their days together at the University of Delaware, the governor's younger brother always worked behind the scenes and continues to be a trusted member of the "kitchen cabinet." He made millions on Wall Street and is a major GOP fundraiser.

Mike DuHaime A top-level political operative who rose through Garden State politics to serve as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign manager in 2008. He was Christie's chief strategist in 2009 and now helps oversee the governor's political operation.

Dale Florio Heads the Princeton Public Affairs Group, Trenton's largest lobbying firm. The former chair of the Somerset County GOP, he continues to wield significant influence in the county and statewide.

Adam Geller As CEO of National Research, Inc., he's the top Republican pollster in the state. Served as Christie's lead pollster in 2009- a job made all the more challenging by the presence of a serious third-party candidate.

George Gilmore The Ocean County GOP chairman helped drive up Republican turnout in south Jersey for Christie in 2009, something the governor hasn't forgotten. Gilmore is now taking a bigger role in statewide lobbying and snagged a spot on the influential bipartisan legislative redistricting commission.

Bill Palatucci Christie's former law partner serves as his chief, untitled advisor and perhaps his closest political confidante. A Republican National Committeeman, he's been a major player since the 80s, when he ran George H. W. Bush's successful 1988 presidential campaign in the state.

Bill Stepien The governor's deputy chief of staff for legislative and intergovernmental affairs handles all of the state politics for the front office, which means he is effectively the executive director of the state GOP.

TOP TEN Democrats Steve Adubato, Sr.

Based in the North Ward of Newark, his support is critical to electoral success in the area. He's close to Christie and thé Democratic county executive. When he has an event, everyone seems to show up.

Bill Castner A top attorney and political strategist, he was the lead Democratic attorney on New Jersey's bipartisan legislative redistricting commission. He previously served as chief counsel to former Gov. Jon Corzine.

Steve DeMicco and Brad Lawrence Partners in the state's dominant Democratic media consulting shop, Message & Media. The firm routinely works with the national committees and recently entered a joint venture with 4C Partners.

Karin Elkis Deputy state director for Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and the undisputed "queen of South Jersey Democratic politics." Menendez relies on her skills to maintain his support in this pivotal region.

Jamie Fox Lobbyist with Fox & Shuffler and longtime political tactician admired by his peers as having some of the best political instincts in the state. He led Democratic efforts to regain the U.S. Senate majority back in 2000.

Angelo Genova Head of Newark-based Genova, Burns & Giantomasi is probably the state's top Democratic election lawyer. His firm is a typical starting point for young attorneys moving up in the state's political scene.

Harold Hodes The godfather of Democratic lobbyists and the man whose counsel is constantly sought by Democratic administrations. With his distinctive loosened tie and white hair, he operates one of the largest lobbying concerns in the state.

Mike Muller One of the state's top Democratic legislative campaign strategists. He works with Totten Communications and is currently running the Democratic Assembly and Senate campaign committees for 2011.

George Norcross III The Cherry Hill-based philanthropist and chairman of Conner Strong Companies, Inc. is the unchallenged head of the South Jersey Democratic political operation he built. A prodigious fundraiser for both politics and charity, there's no one else like him in state politics.

Charlie Wowkanech The head of the state AFL-CIO is an extremely influential player, especially with his successful program of recruiting, training and supporting union members who run for office.

OTHER Democrats Phil Alagia As chief of staff to the Essex County executive, he's the key aide for virtually all things Essex, which includes Newark.

Steve Ayscue A top strategist heavily connected to the South Jersey Democratic political organization.

Bill Caruso The former chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews currently serves as executive director of the Democratic General Assembly caucus.

Zenon Christodoulou North Jersey businessman and top fundraiser who boasts strong ties to the region's Greek community.

John Currie The chairman of the Passaic County Democratic Organization managed to deliver big victories for his slate in 2010.

Al DeCotiis Co-head of a prominent law firm and major Democratic fundraiser.

Charlotte DeFilippo Chair of the Union County Democratic Organization, which has expanded successfully into Republican-leaning suburbs.

Paula Dow The former Essex County prosecutor, Dow was Christie's bid for bipartisanship when he appointed her attorney general.

Kevin Drennan Currently a lobbyist for Cablevision, Drennan is more widely known as a leading field organizer on Democratic statewide campaigns.

Zulima Farber The state's former attorney general is now a partner at Lowenstein Sandier, one of the state's largest firms.

Ed Fanner The former chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell now runs Millennium Strategies, a government consulting and lobbying group.

Jim Florio The former governor oversees a vibrant legal practice at FIorio Ferrucci Steinhardt & Fader, and is frequently sought out for his advice and counsel.

Brandan Gill Sen. Frank Lautenberg's state director is one of the state's top field operatives and is perhaps best known for helping his boss beat back a primary challenge in 2008.

Vince Giordano The executive director of the New Jersey Education Association represents more than 200,000 public school employees and has clashed repeatedly with Christie.

Steve Goldstein The founder of Garden State Equality heads a growing statewide political operation, which doles out ample funds to candidates who stand by its issues.

John Graham The head of Fairview Insurance is one of several top Democratic fundraisers who get together and collectively screen candidates before making a group decision on whom to back.

Bill Harla A top Democratic fundraiser and the go -to attorney on government law for DeCotiis, FitzPatrick & Cole, LLP.

Andrew Hendry As executive director for the Senate Democratic office, he's the key staffer coordinating how the caucus works with and against Christie.

Paul Josephson Partner at powerful law firm Hill Wallack, he heads its government and regulatory affairs division. Served as Obama's in-state campaign attorney in 2008.

Michael Kempaer Key Democratic fundraiser and head of MWW Group, one of the nation's five largest public relations agencies.

Jeannine LaRue The former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Corzine, she's now a senior vice president at Kaufman Zita Group, a major lobbying and public affairs firm.

Bill Maer A partner in Public Strategies Impact, one of Trenton's top lobbying firms. The former campaign strategist is well connected among Democrats in Bergen and Passaic Counties.

Mark Matzen Democratic consultant who has helped win some of the state's toughest congressional races over the past decade.

Patti McGuire A top Democratic strategist for nearly three decades, she now works as a contract lobbyist for Princeton Public Affairs Group.

Pamela Miller A major fundraiser for Democratic causes and a member of the NJ Sports & Exposition Authority, which oversees the Meadowlands sports complex.

Maggie Moran Gov. Corzine's '09 campaign manager retains significant influence in the state party as director of business development for the Laborer's International Union.

Tricia Mueller The political director for the New Jersey Regional Council of Carpenters enhanced her reputation and network by heading up Obama's state operation in 2008.

Mike Murphy The ImpactNJ lobbyist is one of the most quotable players in the state. He's the kind of guy who can take a lead role in U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews' 2008 primary challenge against incumbent Sen. Lautenberg and remain friends with people on both sides.

Bill Pascrell, III The son of Rep. Bill Pascrell is a lobbyist for Princeton Public Affairs Group and serves as Passaic County Counsel.

Joseph Roberts, Jr.

The former state party chairman served as Assembly speaker until 2010. Now retired from elective office, he's still young enough to consider a possible run in the future.

Julie Roginsky A leading Democratic strategist, Roginsky launched Comprehensive Communications Group following a stint as then-Sen. Jon Corzine's communications director.

Donald Scannet A childhood friend of Sen. Menendez and head of Scarnici Hollenbeck, a major law firm based in the Democratic stronghold of Hudson County.

Michael Soliman Sen. Menendez's state director kept his boss connected back home while the senator headed the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Rick Thigpen The son of the Essex County Democratic chair and former executive director of the state Democratic Party, Thigpen is now the top lobbyist for PSE&G, one of the state's biggest energy companies.

Melanie Willoughby A groundbreaking woman in the male-dominated world of New Jersey politics, she heads up government relations for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

James Zazzali The former chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court is considered an elder statesman and political historian on legal issues.

OTHER Replublicans Kristin Antoneilo Her role in Rep. Jon Runyan's successful 2010 campaigns cemented her position as one of the state's top-level GOP operatives.

Bill Baroni The former state senator is now deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where he oversees billions in public works and transportation spending.

Lawrence Bathgate II A legendary GOP fundraiser and attorney at Bathgate Wegener & Wolf, he was the GOP 's national finance chairman under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Roger Bodman The longtime Republican lobbyist with Public Strategies Impact served as commissioner of labor and commissioner of transportation under former Gov. Kean.

Michele Brown A close confidant of Christie from their days at the U.S. Attorney's office, she now sits at the nexus of political patronage power in the state, overseeing every appointment made by the governor.

Debra DiLorenzo The head of the Chamber of Commerce of South Jersey led Christie's labor and workforce transition team and is now the go-to business representative in South Jersey.

Kathe Donovan Bergen County's executive oversees a suburban swing county in the northeastern part of the state with a population of nearly a million.

Michael Drewniak The sharp-tongued Christie spokesman followed the governor from the U.S. Attorney's office to Trenton.

Gregg Edwards Gov. Christie's director of policy was relied upon to help guide the department of education in the immediate aftermath of the firing of Commissioner Bret Schundler.

Lewis Eisenberg Affectionately referred to as "Uncle Lew" for his prodigious fundraising ability, he founded his own investment firm- Granite Capital International Group- in 1990.

Wayne Forrest The former Somerset County prosecutor was tapped to clean up the patronage mill that was the Passale Valley Sewerage Commission. Within weeks, dozens of employees were fired or quit.

Jim Gearhart When the radio personality ripped into the compromise reached between Christie's education commissioner and the state teachers union, everyone took notice.

Gail Gordon A widely valued G OP fundraiser with strong reach throughout the state, starting with her spouse, Democratic state Senator Bob Gordon.

Bill Gormley The former state senator from Atlantic County keeps a low profile, but remains influential.

Robert Grady The head of the New Jersey State Investment Council is counted on to shore up the state's investments, which suffered deep losses during the recent economic downturn.

Ron Gravino Trusted treasurer on countless Republican campaigns and Reform Jersey Now, the political fund that supports Gov. Christie's agenda.

Jon Hanson Leads the Christie-appointed commission that examined the future of the state's gaming enterprises. The outcome of his recommendations will be a key part of the governor's legacy.

Jim Harkness The soft-spoken executive director for the Senate Republican caucus is relied upon to outmaneuver the Democratic majority.

Mary Annie Harper The chief of staff for Rep. Frank LoBiondo is credited with helping him retain huge popularity as a Republican in a Democratic district.

Wayne Hasenbalg The governor's deputy chief of staff for policy and planning and a close personal friend of Christie. If things get bogged down, he can get them back on track.


The former governor who chaired the 9/11 Commission is an icon in New Jersey politics. His endorsement still carries tremendous weight.

Steve Lonegan The former small-town mayor who opposed Christie in a primary in 2009 now heads the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity. He can still make a difference in primary fights.

Alan Marcus President and CEO of the eponymous strategic communications firm, The Marcus Group, he helped Käthe Donovan topple an incumbent in the state's largest county.

Bob Martin The commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection has been tasked with conservation that's a bit more business friendly.

Jeff Michaels A longtime Christie friend and former executive director of the state GOP, he recently formed Optimus Partners LLC, a strategic planning and consulting firm.

Rich Mroz A lawyer, lobbyist and public affairs consultant who served as chief counsel to former Gov. Christine Whitman and now works with the law firm Archer Grenier.

Kevin O'Dowd The governor's deputy chief counsel is described as "the enforcer" in the front office for his ability to stand up to key legislators.

Glenn Paulsen The former Burlington County GOP chair retains significant influence in the organization he helped build. Last year, he helped guide Rep. Jon Runyan to victory.

Chris Russen Oversaw Congressman Runyan's win in 2010, as well as the aggressive- though unsuccessful- campaign of Scott Sipprelle in the state's izth congressional district.

David Samson A prominent Republican who served as attorney general under former Gov. Jim McGreevey. He's now back in private practice at his firm, Wolff & Sampson.

Candace Straight Prominent GOP fundraiser and potential candidate for federal office, Straight served as co-chair of the New Jersey GOP during the 2004 cycle.

Mary Tasy New Jersey Right to Life's executive director is the lead organizer of a small but politically potent community.

Ed Traz One of New Jersey's more popular Republican media consultants, Traz heads up his own shop, The Traz Group, which specializes in direct mail.

James Weinstein The state's transportation commissioner is charged with finding ways to handle commuter needs after the governor killed a multibillion-dollar train tunnel to Manhattan.

Larry Weitzner The president of Jamestown Associates, one of the top ten Republican media firms in the country.

Tom Wilson The former GOP state party chairman is now a contract lobbyist at Kaufman/Zita Group. He boasts strong connections with Trenton insiders and the grassroots.

Rick Wright The aggressive executive director for the Assembly Republicans is the primary strategist working to win control of the lower house of the legislature.

Other players Nick Acocella He hates political power lists but still makes this one. His indispensable weekly newsletter, Politifax, keeps insiders up-to-speed on the stories behind the stories.

Steve Adubato, Jr.

The former assemblyman and son of a major Democratic power broker is a leading independent producer of New Jersey political news programming.

Dennis Bone The president of Verizon NJ and chairman of Choose NJ is a major player in the state's charitable and civic endeavors.

Paul Fishman Christie's replacement in the U.S. Attorney's office. How he handles himself and the office will have implications for the state, as well as for his professional future.

Ray Pocino The national vice president and eastern regional manager for the Laborers International Union plays both sides of the partisan divide.

Albert Porroni As the longtime executive director of the Office of Legislative Services, he's a major player in determining official estimates on the cost and legality of proposed legislation.

Stuart Rabner The chief justice of the state Supreme Court is tasked with selecting the tie-breaking member of the state's Legislative Redistricting Commission.

(c) 2011 Votenet Solutions Inc.

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