Five veteran state senators have announced they’re not seeking re-election this year, adding another layer of change coming to Trenton on top of an open-seat governor’s race.

Between them, Sens. Diane Allen, Joseph Kyrillos, Raymond Lesniak, Kevin O’Toole and Jim Whelan leave with a combined 124 years of experience in the Legislature. Lesniak is running for governor – as is another longtime lawmaker, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is in his 22nd year in the Assembly.

Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin said it’s unusual to see so many veteran legislators retiring at the same time unless it’s the first election after district boundaries are adjusted after the once-a-decade census.

“This is out of the ordinary,” Dworkin said. “Typically you would see increased retirements when there has just been redistricting and people get moved from one district to the next, or they have to face each other in difficult primaries or newfound competitive districts. But that’s not the case here.”

The turnover amounts to one-eighth of the Senate, and that’s before any additional retirements or election defeats for incumbents.

“The biggest change will be because of the loss of these specific personalities,” Dworkin said. He said those who are retiring “were people that often reached across the aisle, found working relationships with people who were not in their party, worked well with governors of both parties, and this allowed New Jersey to have a very functioning government.”

“To lose them, you have to hope that their replacements will be the kinds of people who will also reach across the aisle to find bipartisan agreement in order to move the state forward,” Dworkin said.

Lesniak is likely to be replaced by Union County Sheriff Joseph Cryan, a former assemblyman. The incumbent Assembly members in the districts represented by Allen, Kyrillos and Whelan have each expressed interest or declared their candidacies. There are rival Republican slates jockeying in the 40th District, currently represented by O’Toole.

“There are a couple potential flips when you’re looking at what are now open seats,” Dworkin said.

“There’s a good shot that Republicans can pick up that seat replacing Whelan, but there’s also a good shot that Democrats could pick up the Allen seat as she retires as well,” he said.

Dworkin said the turnover resulting from this year’s elections can change the dynamics in Trenton, potentially leading to progress on political issues that’s not being seen today.

“It’s going to be very different come January 2018 because of the change in personalities. And it really starts with the governor,” Dworkin said. “This is not to say that things not getting done is a result of Chris Christie. It’s just that he is a lame-duck second-term governor, and I think when a new person is in the governor’s seat, it can reset the entire system.”

“Like unplugging and re-plugging in your computer, it reboots the political system in New Jersey when you have a new governor,” Dworkin said.

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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