Faced with a serious decline in her cognitive health, Senate President Pro Tempore Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) is unlikely to return to Trenton and is expected to vacate her seat, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

But legal issues surrounding her ability to make major decisions, such as resignation, have yet to be resolved.

Cunningham was taken to Jersey City Medical Center by EMS on Oct. 4 for a non-life-threatening emergency and has been hospitalized for the past 56 days.

A Superior Court judge has since assigned Jersey City attorney Matthew Burns to handle Cunningham’s personal affairs since the five-term senator can no longer manage them on his own.

Burns’ appointment came before former Gov. James E. McGreevy, a close friend of Cunningham’s, asked another person to take control of her finances and other private affairs. Court records in the case are sealed and the hearing is ongoing.

Sources told the New Jersey Globe that John Minello, chief of staff to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulap, has emerged as the leading candidate to fill the remainder of Cunningham’s term, which expires Jan. 11, 2024, when the senator retires. Minnella will be a supervisor and will not run for a full four-year term in 2023.

The Democratic candidate to replace Cunningham in the 31st Legislative District has yet to be determined, though Fulop will ultimately decide who gets the organizational line from the Hudson County Democratic Party. Possible candidates include Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City) and two Hudson County commissioners from Jersey City: Bill O’Dea and Jerry Walker.

Still unresolved is the question of Cunningham’s competence to make important decisions, such as signing the resignation letter, or whether Burns can resign on Cunningham’s behalf.

Cunningham, 72, has not been in the Senate since the state budget passed in June.

On September 29, she tried to participate remotely in the Senate session where Matt Platkin was to be confirmed for the post of attorney general. Cunningham was recorded as present for the quorum vote, but the secretary of the Senate later changed the record to show she was not present after Senate officers read a letter from Cunningham’s doctor.

When the Senate approved Cunningham’s bill to establish guidelines for the purchase of catalytic converters on Oct. 17, she was not present for the vote. Despite her diminished capacity, a press release following the bill’s passage included a quote from Cunningham.

Since Cunningham’s hospitalization, Gov. Phil Murphy has not nominated a single Hudson County resident for any state or judicial office. If he does, her ability to sign the nomination under an unwritten rule of senatorial courtesy could become a problem.

As Senate president pro tempore, Cunningham is the sixth in line to run for governor.

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