New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced on Thursday he is appointing state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to replace Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who died on Monday.
Chiesa, a longtime friend and colleague of Christie's dating to their early days as lawyers, served as chief counsel to the governor from January 2010 through December 2011, when he was nominated to be New Jersey attorney general. Christie said Chiesa, a Republican, will not run for Senate when his temporary term is over.
At a press conference on Thursday, Christie said he had been considering options for Lautenberg's seat long before Monday, given the late senator's delicate health. He met with Chiesa on Monday night and asked him to consider the position. Chiesa, he said, sent him a text on Tuesday confirming he would take the appointment.
Christie called Chiesa "the best person" for the job and praised him as a public official who has maintained friendly relationships with both Democrats and Republicans.
"There's very few people I know better than Jeff," Christie said. "I have appointed someone I have great faith and confidence in, and someone I know as well as my own family. ... You won't find anyone who has anything bad to say about Jeff, and I think that reflects on his honesty and integrity."
Chiesa, who described himself as a "conservative Republican," said he wanted to "contribute in anyway I can" to the Senate and that he would use his "best judgment and skill" in serving the state. He called the appointment "an incredible honor," but insisted he was not interested in holding the job past October.
Christie had said he wanted to have a replacement for Lautenberg in Washington by next week, when the Senate is expected to begin debating immigration reform.
The announcement comes two days after Christie scheduled an Oct. 16 special election to fill the seat—a decision widely criticized by both Democrats and Republicans who have accused the governor of acting in his own political interest.
The election date, which comes after an Aug. 13 primary, is less than three weeks before New Jersey’s regularly scheduled general election date of Nov. 5, when Christie will be on the ballot seeking re-election. Critics have accused Christie of setting the date early to avoid having a popular Democrat on the ballot, which could drive up voter turnout and hurt his re-election bid.
On Tuesday, Christie denied he was influenced by politics and insisted he simply wanted to give New Jersey voters “a choice and a vote” for the new senator as soon as possible. The state Democratic Party has said it's considering filing suit to move the date of the special election to Nov. 5 to save the cost of having two statewide elections in close proximity.
Christie continued to defend his decision on Thursday, insisting the timing of the election was right for New Jersey voters and was consistent with the state constitution.
"The framers of our constitution made it clear that they wanted federal elections separate from state elections in New Jersey. They did not want voters conflating federal issues and state issues," Christie said. "I think my decision was faithful to the constitution. I think this decision is consistent with that."
The special election has already attracted interest from both Republicans and Democrats.
On Thursday, Rep. Rush Holt, a Democrat, announced he would enter the race, telling supporters in an email that he is the “best candidate to continue the passionate advocacy for progressive values that Sen. Lautenberg exemplified.”
Other Democrats are also said to be considering the race, including Rep. Frank Pallone and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker—who was already exploring a 2014 run for the seat.
While Booker has not publicly announced his intentions, Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for Booker, confirmed to Yahoo News that the mayor is circulating petitions to gain the 1,000 signatures necessary to qualify for the August primary ballot. He said Booker would "make an official announcement at an appropriate date."
On the Republican side, state Assemblyman Jon Bramnick and Joe Plumeri, a Trenton businessman and minor-league baseball team owner, have reportedly expressed interest. But state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., who had been mentioned as one of Christie’s possible appointees, said he’s not interested in the race. And several GOP sources told National Review’s Robert Costa that state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, who was the party’s nominee in 2012, won’t run either.