A Native of Elizabeth, NJ, Senator Raymond J. Lesniak began his legislative career in 1978. He served five and one-half years in the New Jersey General Assembly. In 1983, he was elected to the State Senate and currently Chairs the Senate Economic Growth Committee and serves on the Judiciary and Commerce Committees.
Throughout his career, Senator Lesniak has championed a wide range of legislative efforts. Early in his tenure, he sponsored landmark environmental policies such as the Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act (ECRA), the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Air Pollution Control Act: making New Jersey first-in-the-nation to tackle such issues.
In 2007, he led efforts to abolish the death penalty in New Jersey. His dedication made New Jersey the first state in the Union to abolish the death penalty since the Supreme Court reinstated it in the 1970s.
As Chairman of the Senate Economic Growth Committee, Senator Lesniak drafted and passed an economic stimulus package that will spur economic development through public-private partnerships and tax incremental financing. He has also championed efforts to increase accountability and oversight in our institutions of higher education.
Never shying away from the tough issues, Senator Lesniak is currently working on legislation to create educational opportunities for New Jersey’s most disadvantaged students, to legalize sports betting in the Garden State, to abolish the current Council on Affordable Housing and to create a market driven system for municipalities to meet their affordable housing obligations.
Most recently, Senator Lesniak was at the forefront of efforts to pass legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry in the State of New Jersey. He plans to release a book outlining the fight for gay marriage, highlighting the importance of the issue.
Beyond legislation, the Senator also travels the globe advocating for the abolition of the death penalty and other civil rights issues. In February 2009, he became the second American in history to win the Memorial de Caen International Human Rights Competition for Lawyers in Caen, France. His speech, entitled “The Road to Justice and Peace,” won the acclaim of an international panel of judges and invigorated the abolitionist efforts at home and abroad.
In addition to delivering speeches on the topic, Senator Lesniak has written a series of booklets on the death penalty: including his book The Road to Abolition: How New Jersey Abolished the Death Penalty, a roadmap for legislators in other states to repeal their death penalty statute. And, he created the non-for-profit The Road to Justice and Peace to advance the abolitionist movement, to support the families of murder victims, to promote alternatives to incarceration, and to improve rehabilitation programs for those in prison.
Senator Lesniak is active in the Polish community and served as Grand Marshal of the 2004 Pulaski Day Parade in New York City. He was also honored by the Polish American World as “Citizen of the Year” in 1982.
From “Humanitarian of the Year” to “Legislator of the Year,” Senator Lesniak has been honored by a diversity of groups including the Jewish National Fund, American Cancer Society, New Jersey Constitutional Officers, and the Medical Society of New Jersey. In 2009, he was honored by both the New Jersey Business and Industry Association and the Chemistry Council of New Jersey for his leadership on legislation to revitalize New Jersey’s economy. He is the recipient of the “Fathers of our Children” award from the Marion P. Thomas Charter School for his efforts to create educational opportunities for children from low income families; and, was honored by Lambda Legal for championing the cause of marriage equality.
Senator Lesniak is a leader in the Democratic Party. From 1992 to 1993, he served as Chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and as NJ Chair of the Clinton-Gore and Gore-Liberman presidential campaigns.
The Senator holds an undergraduate degree from Rutgers University in Economics and a Juris Doctorate degree from St. John’s University School of Law. He served in the U.S. Army 1967-69, Specialist Fourth Class. He is a partner in the law firm Weiner Lesniak.