Richard Kanka of Hamilton announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination from the newly redrawn 14th legislative district Tuesday. If he gets the party nod, Kanka would face Democratic Sen. Linda Greenstein, whom voters elevated to the Senate in November after a decade in the Assembly.
"I know how to work with people and they know how to work with us," Kanka said, referring to his wife, Maureen. "I'm hoping to use those experiences in the Legislature."
Megan's Law requires convicted sex offenders to register with police and for authorities to notify neighbors if a sex offender is living nearby. The law is named for the Kankas' daughter, who was raped and murdered in 1994 by a convicted sex offender who had moved into the neighborhood. The Kankas were unaware of the man's criminal history.
Kanka's only elected political experience is a not-yet-completed term on the local school board. He described himself as a blue-collar trade union activist who works "in jeans and boots every day." He said he wasn't well-versed enough on pension and health care proposals in the Legislature to comment on them.
The state's GOP establishment circled around Kanka for the announcement, at a diner in the candidate's hometown of Hamilton in Mercer County, the largest municipality in the district.
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. was there, as was former Congressman Dick Zimmer and at least a half-dozen local mayors and council members. Retired GOP Sen. Peter Inverso, who helped push for passage of the original Megan's Law, had glowing words of introduction for Kanka.
"Children in our state and in the country - and in some sense the world - are better because of what Rich and Maureen Kanka did," Inverso said. "I have never seen people so committed to making change. I believe Richard Kanka has that commitment."
Kanka, who is a member of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 9, did not get the endorsement of his union. The local endorsed Greenstein on Tuesday, with business manager Mike Maloney calling her "a strong supporter of all unions, public and private, one hundred percent of the time. Labor is loyal and labor will never turn its back on someone who has been loyal to us," he said.
Greenstein said she welcomed any opponent into the race and looked forward "to a spirited discussion of the issues."
She was not in the Legislature when Megan's Law was enacted but most subsequent revisions and related bills went through the Assembly Judiciary Committee, which she chaired. She said she worked with the Kankas on legislation and was among the few Democrats to vote against repealing the death penalty, in part out of respect for the Kankas.