Most New Jersey lawmakers who retire from office are rarely heard from again.

Former state Sen. Ray Lesniak isn’t one of them.

After representing the Elizabeth area in the Legislature for 40 years, he’s formed the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership at Kean University, where he’s teaching a class in advocacy.

“You just can’t turn that faucet off. At least I couldn’t turn that faucet off and just go sail off into the sunset," he said.

He said with his organization, “I am continuing to advocate for those issues that have been, that I have championed my entire legislative career.”

Those issues are animal rights and protecting the environment, gun control, criminal justice reform and racial and ethnic equality.

Part of the mission of his Institute is to encourage New Jersey residents to reach out to their legislators and get involved.

“To write a message, give 'em a call, send them a letter advocating for an issue that either the Institute has gotten behind or they want themselves," he said.

He wants to encourage people to turn their passion into action.

“And to give them the tools they need to get things done in government," he said.

“We’re slowing dying. Our voter participation is the lowest in the free world."

He acknowledges that convincing people to get involved in government is not an easy task because so many people have been turned off by phony public figures.

“A lot of it is politicians' faults themselves. I want to scream when I hear a political figure give a canned remark, something that doesn’t come from their heart.”

His advice for those who have been turned off by politics?

“Don’t give up. Do what you can and check out our website,”

Lesniak was once called “Crazy Ray” by former Gov. Chris Christie, but he said the comment doesn’t bother him in the least.

“Anything that Gov. Christie says in a derogatory manner about me, I’m part of a big club that he has put down, and it is indeed a badge of honor.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at

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