Corzine to select Weinbergas No. 2 As candidate for lieutenant governor, the legislator is expected to bolster the ticket's reform credentials.

Posted: July 25, 2009

Gov. Corzine has picked Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Bergen County Democrat known for her defiance of party bosses, as his running mate for this fall's election.

"For over forty years, Loretta Weinberg has been an advocate for better health care, honest government, environmental protection, women's rights, and protecting the pocketbooks of New Jersey's working families," Corzine said in an e-mail. "She shares my commitment to our state and my vision for what New Jersey can be, and I cannot think of a better person to serve as New Jersey's first lieutenant governor."

Democratic insiders hope that having Weinberg, 74, as their candidate for lieutenant governor will bolster their ticket's reform credentials in the aftermath of Thursday's sweeping corruption indictments. Weinberg also provides Corzine with a popular face in the state's most populous county.

Corzine is scheduled to announce his pick today in Englewood, near Weinberg's hometown of Teaneck.

"She'll be feisty, she'll be tough as nails," said Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D., Union). "She's hard-hitting, she's got a reform background. I think the events of the current days put her over the top."

Weinberg had long been rumored to be on Corzine's short list for the lieutenant governor slot, but Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex) appeared to be the leading contender before Thursday's corruption charges captured headlines, according to two high-ranking Democratic officials who did not want to be named discussing the internal process.

"The latest series of events made her the clear choice," Lesniak said.

Buono, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said that the governor had "made the right choice" and that she would "do everything I can" to see Corzine and Weinberg elected.

The governor and the lieutenant governor, a new position in this year's race, will be elected as a team.

Weinberg, a longtime member of the Assembly, rose to the Senate in 2005 after a controversial and acrimonious battle with Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero over who would fill a vacant seat. In defying Ferriero, then seen as one of the most influential power brokers in the state, Weinberg flexed her political muscle and solidified a reputation as a reformer. She vowed to battle "the old-boy network."

Ferriero later was indicted on unrelated corruption charges.

Montclair State University political scientist Brigid Harrison said Weinberg was known as a "straight-shooter."

"She does not abide by the forms of corruption that we have seen displayed so vigorously over the past day or so," Harrison said. "This gives [voters] a reason to perhaps reconsider the Democratic ticket if they had thrown up their hands in disgust."

Harrison said corruption does not often play a major role in elections, but with Corzine's ads attacking Republican Christopher J. Christie's integrity and Thursday's indictments, the candidates are likely to make ethics a prominent issue.

Weinberg could also help geographically. Bergen County is home to roughly 10 percent of the state's registered voters.

"The number of voters is so enormous that it matters more than any other county in the state," Harrison said.

Weinberg was appointed to fill an Assembly seat in 1992. She won election to a full term in 1993 and was re-elected five times.

She moved to the Senate in 2005 after a controversial Democratic Party vote to replace Sen. Byron M. Baer, who resigned for health reasons. Weinberg initially lost, 114-111, to former Assemblyman Charles Zisa, but won after five provisional sealed ballots went in her favor after a monthlong court battle. She was elected to a full term in 2007.

Weinberg has championed legislation on ethics reform, autism research, women's health care, affordable housing, and prevention of domestic violence.

She serves on the New Jersey Israel Commission and New Jersey Historical Commission.

Before becoming a state legislator, she served on the Teaneck Township Council and Community Relations Board. From 1975 to 1985, she was an assistant administrator in Bergen County.

She was born in 1935 in New York. She graduated from the University of California in 1956 and completed coursework for a master's degree in public administration at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She ran a small business, Fineline Store Equipment, with her late husband, Irwin, for more than 30 years. She has a son and a daughter.

Christie this week chose Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno as his running mate. Harrison said that with the corruption issue arising, the law-and-order choice looked smart.

The Christie campaign yesterday called the Weinberg pick "more of the same Trenton approach that has led to a record 9.2 percent unemployment rate."

"One thing is clear from Loretta Weinberg's 17 years of voting on tax hikes, fee increases, and spending increases - you can't change Trenton from the inside," campaign spokeswoman Maria Comella said in an e-mail.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 609-989-9016 or jtamari@phillynews.com.

Staff writer Cynthia Henry contributed to this report.

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