POLITICS
06/06/2013 06:03 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2013

Jeff Chiesa Record Shows New Senator Was Praised By New Jersey Democrats In 2012

AP

New Jersey's first Republican U.S. senator in 30 years was praised by state Senate Democrats for not being political during his 2012 confirmation hearing to be state attorney general.

Sen.-designate Jeff Chiesa told the state Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 5, 2012, that he planned to make gang violence and criminal issues his top priorities as attorney general. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) appointed Chiesa to the U.S. Senate Thursday to fill the vacancy created by Sen. Frank Lautenberg's (D) death earlier this week. Chiesa will serve until October and will not run for the seat in the October special election to complete Lautenberg's term, which ends in January 2015.

"You are straightforward, you are always honest and you have never played the political game," state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) told Chiesa at the 2012 hearing. Lesniak, a former state Democratic Party chairman, is one of New Jersey's most powerful Democrats.

An audio recording of the hearing is archived on the state Legislature website.

Christie, a former federal prosecutor, appointed Chiesa the attorney general after two years as the governor's chief counsel -- Christie's chief liaison with the Democratic-controlled state legislature. Lesniak said that Chiesa did not "play the political game" as chief counsel. State Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R-Cedar Grove) used the hearing to note that no one in Trenton "hates" Chiesa.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), who has had a tumultuous relationship with Christie, described Chiesa as "responseful and respectful."

Chiesa stressed his reputation during the hearing.

“The one thing I come into each of these jobs I have is my reputation. I plan on maintaining my reputation at every stage of my career the best I can," Chiesa said. "The first time anyone thinks you are doing something for anything but the right reason, you should pack up your bags.”

Since becoming attorney general, Chiesa has made a gun buyback program a top priority. He has also announced his support for mandatory rehab programs for non-violent drug offenders, and for eliminating bail for dangerous criminals. During the 2012 hearing, he stressed he would work with federal and local law enforcement to crack down on gang violence. He said unlike the mafia, gangs were targeting non-gang members and law enforcement.

"Traditional organized crime, typically has not, I think probably for business reasons, attacked, outwardly attacked, law enforcement and have simply no regard, and randomly and indiscriminately attacked innocent people," Chiesa said. "Gangs don't care."

Last month, Chiesa's office seized alcohol and records from 29 bars, alleging that they served low-quality alcohol under premium labels. The bars included 12 TGI Friday's franchises and popular local bars including Sona Thirteen in Morristown and Blackthorn Restaurant in Parsippany-Troy Hills.

Chiesa is a surprise Senate pick, not appearing on any short list prior to Thursday. He is a longtime Christie confidant, having worked with the governor in a Cranford law firm in the 1990s. During Christie's seven-year stint as a U.S. attorney in New Jersey, Chiesa held multiple posts, including executive assistant U.S. attorney. Chiesa headed Christie's gubernatorial transition before becoming chief counsel.

Correction: A previous version of this story listed the Blackthorn Restaurant in Kenilworth.

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