Raymond Lesniak

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Raymond Lesniak
Member of the New Jersey Senate
from the 20th district
In office
June 16, 1983 – January 9, 2018
Preceded byJohn T. Gregorio
Succeeded byJoseph Cryan
Member of the New Jersey General Assembly
In office
January 10, 1978 – June 16, 1983
Preceded byJohn T. Gregorio
Succeeded byThomas W. Long
Constituency21st district (1978–1982)
20th district (1982–1983)
Personal details
Born (1946-05-07) May 7, 1946 (age 77)
Elizabeth, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationRutgers University, Newark (BA)
St. John's University (JD)

Raymond J. Lesniak (born May 7, 1946) is an American Democratic Party politician, who served in the New Jersey State Senate from 1983 to 2018, where he represented the 20th Legislative District. Before entering New Jersey's upper house, the Senate, Lesniak served in the General Assembly from 1978 to 1983.[1] Lesniak was once considered a major power broker in the Democratic Party, having served as New Jersey Democratic State Chairman, also serving as New Jersey Chair for Clinton/Gore in 1996 and as a major fundraiser for Gore/Lieberman in 2000. Lesniak finished a distant fourth place as a candidate for Governor of New Jersey in the 2017 election.

Personal life[edit]

Lesniak grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1969, then earned his Bachelor of Arts in economics from Rutgers University in 1971, and his Juris Doctor from St. John's University School of Law in 1974.[1] He is an attorney with the firm Weiner Lesniak.[1]

Lesniak is ethnically Polish.

In 2018, Lesniak married Salena Carroll, his girlfriend of 20 years, just a year before she died of coronary artery disease and natural causes at age 43.[2][3]

Political career[edit]

In 1980, Lesniak ran for the office of Mayor of Elizabeth. He was defeated by incumbent mayor Thomas G. Dunn, whom he challenged in the Democratic primary election.[4] Dunn scored about 7,100 votes to Lesniak's 6,600 while about 2,000 went to David Conti, the challenger who came 276 votes away from toppling Dunn in 1976 and was (in 1980) endorsed by the Regular Democratic Organization of Union County.[citation needed]

Subsequently, Dunn orchestrated Lesniak's removal from the 'party line' -- a preferred ballot position aligned with almost all other incumbents—when it was time for the lawmaker to seek re-election to the General Assembly in 1981. Party leaders did not inform Lesniak about his loss of support until two days before the petition filing deadline. Elizabeth Health Director John Surmay was selected to replace Lesniak on the ballot between Sen. John T. Gregorio and Assemblyman Thomas J. Deverin, his prior running mates.[citation needed]

Building on the organization assembled during his race for mayor, the Elizabeth Democratic Association, Lesniak waged a campaign with support from organized labor, environmentalists, minority communities, and others. On June 6, 1981, Lesniak won renomination with approximately 20% more than the number of votes cast for Deverin and almost twice as many ballots as Dunn's proxy, Surmay.[5]

In a June 1983 special election, Lesniak won the Senate seat of John T. Gregorio who was forced to vacate his office after being convicted of hiding his ownership of a pair of Linden go-go bars.[6]

Lesniak serves on the Economic Growth Committee (as Chair), Commerce Committee (as vice-chair), the Legislative Services Commission, the Judiciary Committee and the Legislative Oversight Committee.[1]

Lesniak has also been involved in national politics over the course of his tenure. In 1996, he was Chairman of the New Jersey Clinton-Gore Presidential Campaign, and in 2000 he was a key insider in the Al Gore campaign. Lesniak served as Chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, and Chairman of the 1997 Jim McGreevey campaign for Governor of New Jersey.


Early in his tenure, he sponsored landmark environmental policies, such as the Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act (now known as the Industrial Site Recovery Act), the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Pesticide Control Act, making New Jersey first-in-the-nation to tackle such issues. The laws hold polluters responsible for their actions and have resulted in cleaner drinking water for New Jersey residents.[7]

Lesniak has championed the abolition of the death penalty in New Jersey (after having voted for its reinstatement in 1982[8]); the Marriage Equality Act; and environmental initiatives to clean up one of the most heavily industrialized regions in the nation.[9] He has worked with The Humane Society and other animal rights organizations.[10]

In 2014, Lesniak announced his plan to pass a bill that would legalize sports betting for racetracks and casinos in New Jersey, challenging the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.[11] After the Supreme Court refused the NJ appeal toward PASPA overturn in 2013,[12] Ray Lesniak made revisions to his sports betting bill and got them approved by the US Department of Justice. Even though the new version of the bill was first vetoed by Governor Christie, Lesniak didn't stop revising it until the State Assembly finally passed S.B. 2460, and Christie signed it into law, claiming it to be a “bipartisan legislative effort.” Several more lawsuits and court appeals later, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018.

In October 2016, Lesniak introduced a bill dubbed "Pedals' Law" that would ban black bear hunting in New Jersey for five years. This was in response to the killing of the bipedal bear Pedals by a hunter.[13]

2017 gubernatorial campaign[edit]

Lesniak first announced his intention to run for governor of New Jersey in 2016. He then switched to saying he would no longer seek the Democratic nomination in October, after Phil Murphy gathered early support from county leaders around the state.[14] However, he announced in early January he was indeed running and filed the appropriate paperwork officially putting him in the race.[15]

On June 6, 2017, he lost the primary, placing in a distant fourth behind Murphy, Jim Johnson, and John Wisniewski.

Later years[edit]

In April 2022, Lesniak published his memoir, Cultivating Justice in the Garden State: My Life in the Colorful World of New Jersey Politics (with a foreword by Bill Clinton).[16] In 2023, after six years of retirement, he explored a run against incumbent Thomas Kean Jr. in the 2024 race for New Jersey's 7th congressional district.[17]

First BankAmericano directorship[edit]

On February 9, 2010, The Wall Street Journal published a copy of a letter[18] from Senator Robert Menendez to the Federal Reserve pushing for approval of a deal for the sale of First BankAmericano of Elizabeth where State Senator Lesniak served on the board of directors.[19] A media controversy arose due to BankAmericano's political connections. Its board members included several major campaign contributors to Menendez – among them State Senator Lesniak. Following the media controversy over the bailout request, it was disclosed that Lesniak had also received "insider loans" from the bank.[20] Prior to the bailout request, First BankAmericano had been under financial pressure for more than a year because of mounting loan losses. A highly critical report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.(FDIC) also found the institution had engaged in unsafe or unsound banking practices, including "operating without adequate supervision by its board of directors", an excessive level of delinquent or bad loans, inadequate earnings and insufficient coverage of its assets.[21]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1982, Lesniak was named "Citizen of the Year" by Polish American World, and "Man of the Year" in 1991, by the Jewish National Fund, and the American Cancer Society. In 2003, he was awarded "Legislator of the Year" by the Medical Society of New Jersey for working to make healthcare more affordable and accessible, expanding the PAAD low-cost prescription drug program to cover more seniors and expanding cancer and diabetes research and education.[22]

Lesniak was the grand marshal of the Pulaski Day Parade in New York City in 2004.[22]

In 2009, Lesniak won the Mémorial de Caen International Human Rights Award in Normandy, France; one of only two Americans to ever do so, with the speech "The Road To Justice and Peace."[23]

On September 30, 2014, the Raymond J. Lesniak Experience, Strength and Hope Recovery High School on the Kean University campus was inaugurated, New Jersey's first recovery high school, a program designed for youths battling drug and alcohol addiction. Lesniak, who championed the creation of the program has sponsored legislation to start similar schools in New Jersey.[24]

Election history[edit]

New Jersey State Senate elections, 2013[25]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Raymond J. Lesniak (incumbent) 21,251 100.0
Democratic hold
New Jersey State Senate elections, 2011[26]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Raymond J. Lesniak (incumbent) 12,510 75.5
Republican Helen S. Rosales 4,052 24.5
Democratic hold
New Jersey State Senate elections, 2007[27]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Raymond J. Lesniak (incumbent) 9,760 58.7
Republican Linda Gaglione 4,478 26.9
Independent Stanley J. Moskal 2,397 14.4
Democratic hold


  1. ^ a b c d Senator Lesniak's legislative webpage Archived 2008-06-02 at the Wayback Machine, New Jersey Legislature. Accessed February 14, 2008.
  2. ^ Wildstein, David (July 3, 2019). "Salena Lesniak, civil rights champion, dies". New Jersey Globe. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  3. ^ Wildstein, David (10 March 2022). "Lesniak sues Patch for implicating him in wife's death". New Jersey Globe. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  4. ^ Staff (October 24, 2013). "The Joe D-Dunn Connection". PolitickerNJ. Retrieved July 4, 2015.
  5. ^ http://www.state.nj.us/state/elections/election-results/1981-primary-results-st-senate-gen-assembly.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  6. ^ 1983 Special Elections to Fill Vacancies in the State Legislature"[permanent dead link], State of New Jersey. Accessed July 15, 2010.
  7. ^ "Raymond J. Lesniak Positions and Views on Environment". Archived from the original on 2014-11-29. Retrieved 2014-11-18.
  8. ^ "Editorial – Mr. Lesniak Changes His Mind". The New York Times. June 10, 2008. Retrieved July 4, 2015. In 1982, when he was a young member of the New Jersey Assembly, Mr. Lesniak voted with the majority to reinstate the state's death penalty.
  9. ^ "Truth Teller | Rutgers Magazine".
  10. ^ "HSLF: Humane Society Legislative Fund Endorses New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak for Reelection". Archived from the original on 2014-11-29. Retrieved 2014-11-18.
  11. ^ http://www.northjersey.com/news/nj-sen-lesniak-to-craft-sports-betting-bill-for-racetracks-casinos-1.1019252[bare URL]
  12. ^ https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-398_1b7d.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  13. ^ Norman, Jim (October 17, 2016). "N.J. senator's 'Pedals' Law' would ban black bear hunting for five years; hearing today". The Record. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  14. ^ "Lesniak the latest to drop plans to run for N.J. governor". NJ.com. Retrieved 2017-01-06.
  15. ^ "Lesniak running for N.J. governor after all: 'I could not hold myself back'". NJ.com. Retrieved 2017-01-06.
  16. ^ "Cultivating Justice in the Garden State: My Life in the Colorful World of New Jersey Politics". Rutgers University Press. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  17. ^ Wildstein, David (March 17, 2023). "Lesniak still exploring '24 congressional run against Kean". New Jersey Globe. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  18. ^ https://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/menendez0208.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  19. ^ U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez defends bailout request for struggling BankAmericano in Elizabeth, The Star-Ledger, February 9, 2010
  20. ^ Lesniak, other insiders got loans at failed bank
  21. ^ http://www.fdic.gov/bank/individual/enforcement/2007-08-04.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  22. ^ a b "Election Coverage 2007: Ray Lesniak".
  23. ^ "New Jersey Politics | NJ Politics | Observer".
  24. ^ "Union County opens Recovery High School aiding students battling to stay sober". October 2014.
  25. ^ "Official List Candidates for State Senate For GENERAL ELECTION 11/05/2015 Election" (PDF). Secretary of State of New Jersey. December 4, 2013. Retrieved July 4, 2015.
  26. ^ Official List Candidate Returns for State Senate For November 2011 General Election, New Jersey Department of State, December 14, 2011. Accessed June 22, 2012.
  27. ^ Official List Candidate Returns for State Senate For November 2007 General Election, New Jersey Department of State, December 3, 2007. Accessed June 22, 2012.

External links[edit]

New Jersey General Assembly
Preceded by Member of the New Jersey General Assembly
from the 21st district

Served alongside: Thomas J. Deverin
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the New Jersey General Assembly
from the 20th district

Served alongside: Thomas J. Deverin
Succeeded by
New Jersey Senate
Preceded by Member of the New Jersey Senate
from the 20th district

Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Chair of the New Jersey Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Tom Byrne