Chris Christie Names N.J. Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa Interim Senator

New Jersey Chris Christie announced today that he was appointing New Jersey’s Attorney General, Jeffrey Chiesa to fill Frank Lautenberg’s former Senate seat until a winner can be certified in the October 16th Special Election:

Gov. Chris Christie today named state attorney general Jeffrey Chiesa to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the death of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Chiesa said he won’t seek reelection.

Christie’s announcement at a hastily arranged news conference ended days of intense speculation over whom the Republican governor would appoint to serve nearly five months before voters elect a replacement for the 89-year-old Lautenberg, who died Monday.

New Jersey voters haven’t sent a Republican to the Senate in four decade

On Tuesday, Christie made the controversial decision to hold two special elections — an Aug. 13 primary and an Oct. 16 election — to fill the Senate seat at a cost of almost $25 million.

Some Republicans have criticized the approach as a political move on Christie’s part, aimed at keeping Newark Mayor Cory Booker — who has expressed interest in the Senate seat — off the November ballot. Booker could attract more Democrats to come out to vote and possibly erode Christie’s margin of victory over his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono.

Chiesa grew up in in Bound Brook with two younger sisters. His father worked at a chemical plant and died when Chiesa was 8, leaving his mother — a public school teacher– to raise him and his two sisters. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1987, and returns every year to see a football game. He earned his law degree from the Catholic University of America in 1990 and a year later joined the Cranford law firm now known as Dughi & Hewit. It was there that he met Christie.

Chiesa followed Christie to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2002. He became Christie’s trusted eyes and ears, and led some of the office’s most high-profile public corruption cases, like the one against former state Senate president John Lynch. He moved again in 2009 after Christie was elected governor, taking the reins of his transition team.

He told The Star-Ledger that year that he wanted to help Christie hit the ground running “because I’m personally and professionally so invested in seeing him succeed.”

He was named Christie’s chief counsel when the governor took office.

Chiesa became Attorney General of New Jersey in 2012 when he was appointed to the post, and confirmed by the legislature,  by Governor Christie. As noted, Chiesa will not be a candidate for the Senate seat in the upcoming primary, which isn’t too surprising since he’s never sought elective office in the past and has spent most of his career in the legal field. On the whole, this seems like a good choice by Christie. From the early accounts I’m seeing Chiesa is well regarded in the New Jersey legal community and has performed quite well as Attorney General. He’ll be a vote that’s further to the right than Lautenberg for the three months that he’ll be in office but I don’t get the impression that he’s going to be a hard-right conservative or anything like that.

As for the race itself, things are already off and running in that regard. On the Republican side, Steve Lonegan, a conservative who has run for Senate before, has already announced his candidacy on the Republican side and there will likely be more candidates jumping into that race. On the Democratic side, it looks like we’ll have at least three candidates. Cory Booker is in the race, as are Congressmen Frank Pallone and Rush Holt. Anyone who wants to get into the race will have to hit the ground running, because nominating petitions for the primaries are due in the Secretary of State’s office in Trenton by 4pm on Monday June 10th. The petitions must contain at least 1,000 signatures from people who are both registered voters and registered members of the party whose primary the candidate seeks to enter, which practically means that a candidate should gather between 2,000 and 2,500 signatures just to be safe in case some signatures are thrown out due to challenges. So, the next four days are going to be very busy for petition canvassers and campaign aides in the State of New Jersey.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.