By John Burton
The 2014 run for a New Jersey U.S. Senate seat could see former Two River Times owner and publisher and Fox News host Geraldo Rivera throwing his hat into the ring.
In a phone interview with The Two River Times on Friday, Rivera acknowledged, “There is still a long way to go before making the major decision but it’s something that is intriguing. He said he and his wife, Erica “are definitely contemplating” a run for the senate seat.
Rivera, 69, said the notion arose during conversations with state Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr. (R-13), a close personal friend. “We were talking and one thing led to another.” That led to conversations with other mutual friends and his interest was peaked.
Rivera would run as a Republican. He has been a registered Republican for much of his life, he said.
He said he has become increasingly bothered by the direction and tone of the national Republican Party, seeing it as increasingly exclusionary, alienating much of the electorate – to the party’s detriment.
“The [right-wing] ideologues crippled the Republican Party,” Rivera said. “And they can not continue in the 21st century if they have this small-tent idea, this vile language about immigrants, gays, people who believe in choice.”
He would like to return the party to its more moderate, mainstream foundation, saying it should be the party of those he called his “heroes” in the GOP when he was coming of age: Nelson Rockefeller, the late former New York governor; the late U.S. Senator Jacob Javits from New York; and New Jersey’s Clifford Case, the last Republican – elected in 1972 – to hold a New Jersey U.S. Senate seat.
Rivera also put New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in that category.
About New Jersey’s current Republican governor Rivera said, “Chris Christie is in the mold of the Republican Party that I think is moderate and flexible enough to prosper in the future.”
Phone calls to the State Republican Party offices and to Monmouth County Republican Chairman John O. Bennett seeking comment were not returned on Friday.
The seat Rivera might seek is held now by 89-year-old Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who has held been in the Senate for this go-round since 2003. He initially served in the Senate from December 1982 through January 2001.
Lautenberg has not said publicly if he would seek another six-year term. “There are a lot of people looking” to run in the Democrat’s stead, said Vin Gopal, the Monmouth County Democratic Party chairman. Newark Mayor Cory Booker has announced he’s exploring the possibility of a run. U.S. Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (D-6) also has expressed an interest, but hasn’t said so publicly, Gopal said.
Caley Gray, a Lautenberg spokesman, said he had no comment on Rivera’s possible run. Booker’s campaign did not respond to an email request for comment.
Gopal doesn’t give a Rivera run much credence. “I think people know him from TV and the controversies,” that have risen over some of Rivera’s public statements over the years. “But personally, I don’t think he’s going to be much of a factor,” especially given New Jersey voters haven’t sent a Republican to the Senate in four decades.
John Weingarten, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, seemed to share Gopal’s assessment. Weingarten said Rivera would have been a more credible candidate earlier in his career, when he was seen as crusading journalist. Now, Weingarten said, Rivera “gives the impression that the highest priority of his journalism is keeping his name prominent.”
Weingarten compared Rivera’s possible candidacy to that of former Tennessee senator and actor Fred Thompson in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Rivera has lived in New Jersey since 1989 and currently lives in Bergen County, he said. He formerly lived on Middletown’s Navesink River Road, overlooking the river. He acquired a controlling interest in 1991 of this newspaper, The Two River Times. He served as publisher and wrote a weekly column until selling it in 2004 to Rumson residents Michael and Diane Gooch.
“He’s very passionate about his beliefs,” said Donna Rovere, chief operating officer for The Two River Times. She worked for 11 years with Rivera and believes “if he does commit to run for the Senate, he’ll put the same passion into it that he brings to the rest of his life.”
Scott Longfield, the newspaper’s chief photographer who also worked for Rivera, called him “a great boss.”
“When he decides to do something, when he gets it in his mind, he’s serious about it and he’ll be in to win it,” Longfield said.
Rivera said he suspects he has about a year to make a decision and will use that time to confer with Christie and others, seeking their advice about a campaign before making any final decision. Until then he said he plans to continue with his radio and cable news shows.
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