State Senator and former Gov. Richard Codey (D-27) announced today that he will not seek a 14th term in the Senate, ending a 50-year career in the Legislature.
“I’m not going to lie, this is a tough day for me. An emotional day. But here it is: After a half-century in the Legislature, it’s time for me to say goodbye. My service to the state of New Jersey and its great people will end when this legislative session concludes at the end of the year,” Codey wrote in a post on his Facebook page.
Codey won his first Assembly race in November of 1973 and was sworn-in the following January, making it a perfect 50-year circle that he will be ending.
“I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to have served the people of this state, especially those of you in the City of Orange and my neighbors in Essex and Morris counties,” Codey wrote. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done in the Legislature — as New Jersey’s longest-serving legislator — and during my time as New Jersey’s 53rd governor.”
He said he fought to pass laws that matter to all New Jerseyans, especially those who don’t always have a voice or the ability to be heard. “From mental health and addiction services to bans on indoor smoking and championing our toughest-in-the-nation gun laws, I’ve fought for who and what I believe in, even when it wasn’t easy. I’ve made lifelong friends and lifelong enemies – and I’m proud of both lists!” he wrote.
When he was elected to the Assembly in 1973 at age 26, Codey was, at the time, the youngest person ever elected to the State Legislature. He served four Assembly terms before being elected to the State Senate in 1981. He has been re-elected 11 times.
He served as Senate co-president from 2002 to 2004 when the upper house was evenly split 20-20 between Democrats and Republicans. When Democrats gained the majority in 2004, he was selected senate president for the 211th, 212th and 213th legislative sessions. When Governor James E. McGreevey resigned before his term expired, Codey became the state’s 53rd governor on Nov. 16, 2004. He considered running for a full term, but Democratic party leaders favored U.S. Senator Jon Corzine.
As a legislator, Codey has advocated for better care and treatment for individuals with mental illnesses. Early in his legislative career, he exposed problems in state psychiatric hospitals when he assumed the name of a deceased convicted criminal and was hired at Marlboro Psychiatric Hospital. His undercover operation received national attention and led to reforms that significantly improved the quality of care and quality of life for patients in mental health facilities.
As governor, Codey continued to bring the struggles of individuals with mental illness to the forefront of the public’s attention. His first official act was to establish the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health to report on the direction New Jersey should take in delivering improved services to its mentally ill. During his 14 months as governor, he was successful in implementing more than 90% of the task force’s recommendations. Along with his wife, Mary Jo, he launched a statewide postpartum depression awareness campaign. He also sponsored legislation that requires doctors and healthcare professionals to screen and educate all new mothers for postpartum depression. These efforts would later see the couple create The Codey Fund for Mental Health, an organization dedicated to removing the stigma of mental illness while working to improve access to high quality care for those afflicted.
During his governorship, he also signed numerous laws including the Smoke Free Air Act, GPS tracking for convicted sex offenders, and a minimum wage increase, and played a critical role in advancing medical research and scientific progress in New Jersey.
He sponsored the nation’s first statewide assault weapons ban and childproof handgun law, and, as governor, he created a task force to examine steroid use and prevention, and sponsored bills establishing random drug testing for student athletes and training for coaches to identify the symptoms of steroid abuse.
He also helped establish the state’s Charity Care program, which helps hospitals treat uninsured patients, and a program that provides prescription drug assistance for seniors and individuals with disabilities.
Codey concluded his post by writing: “Fifty years is a long time. I have seen a lot of changes in the Legislature and the governor’s office. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the importance of public service. Public service is about making a difference in the lives of people. It’s about working together to create a better future for everyone. I’ll miss that — the hope and promise of doing something great for people every day.
“And I’ll miss you — the people who voted for me and the people who didn’t. You made me better as a legislator and as a person. … There can be no greater privilege than representing people who trust you as you have trusted me. God Bless you all.”
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