Posted by on June 10, 2013 in Blog

By: Matt Haugen

Summer 2013 Intern

Last Thursday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appointed New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to the Senate seat formerly held by Frank Lautenberg, who died last week. Chiesa (pictured left), who was a surprise pick to fill the seat, will remain in the Senate for only four months and will not seek re-election during the special election in October. Chiesa is poised to bring very different ideas to Lautenberg’s seat.

So far, Chiesa has sent mixed signals to the New Jersey Arab American community, especially concerning his reactions to the NYPD spying scandal which broke last year. Chiesa initially reached out to the community with sympathy and outrage at the NYPD’s use of discriminatory tactics and formed a “Muslim outreach committee.” However, Chiesa also headed an investigation that deemed increased surveillance against Muslim communities perfectly legal. He also led the charge to coordinate counterterrorism efforts between the NYPD and New Jersey law enforcement agencies, further complicating his stance on the NYPD’s profiling.

Chiesa has said he will approach his four-month tenure with a focus on immigration that starkly contrasts that of his predecessor, stating: “The first thing we have to do is make sure our borders are secure.” Former Senator Lautenberg has been noted for his commitment to refugees and it seems Chiesa will be a departure from these concerns. It will be interesting to see if Chiesa is able to make his voice heard in the current debate over immigration reform.

Regardless of his short term, we will keep an eye on Chiesa’s engagement with the Arab American community in New Jersey.

As Chiesa takes office, the race to replace him is already heating up. High profile announcements like that of Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s entrance into the race is surely a sign of an impending hard-fought election battle. Expected to join Booker on the Democratic side are Representatives Rush Holt and Frank Pallone. Tea Party candidate Steve Lonegan recently filed to seek his party’s nomination, and other possibilities on the Republican side include Arab American State Senator Joe Kyrillos as well as State Senator Tom Kean, Jr. and Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno. The last time a Republican candidate won a Senate seat in New Jersey was 1972.

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