WOODBRIDGE, NJ—Craig Coughlin, an attorney who represents many local governments in the area, is now the leader of the state's 80-member General Assembly.
In what marks a major power shift in state government, Coughlin arguably became the first person from Central Jersey to serve as Assembly Speaker since the early 80's.
The change in leadership officially took place on January 9, as Hudson County legislator Vincent Prieto yielded the powerful position after losing a months-long campaign to Coughlin. Both men are Democrats.
Coughlin's rise is expected to mean more power for Middlesex County's Democratic Party and the powerful political machine behind it.
Coughlin has close ties to Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac and Middlesex County Democratic Party Chairman Kevin McCabe, who also hails from the state's sixth-largest municipality by population.
Before moving to the Fords section of Woodbridge, Coughlin got his start in Democratic Party politics as an elected official in South Amboy.
Coughlin's first electoral victory came in 1983 when he joined the South Amboy Board of Education. Four years later, he was elected to the City Council there and served in that office until 1993.
After serving as a Municipal Court Judge in Edison, Coughlin was eventually elected to the Assembly in 2009, where he replaced former Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas, who decided not to seek re-election shortly before he was convicted on corruption charges.
Since then, Coughlin has held one of the two Assembly seats representing the 19th legislative district, which includes Perth Amboy, Sayreville, South Amboy, and his new hometown of Woodbridge.
Since 2010, he has held onto the Assembly seat and quietly built up his connections as a lawmaker as well as a practicing attorney.
With the backing of key players in New Jersey's political machines, he became the front-runner for Speaker in 2017.
Just as his political power-play was shaking up Trenton, Coughlin closed his solo law practice and launched a new firm, hiring four attorneys away from the powerful Decotiis FitzPatrick & Cole to join him in the new company: Rainone, Coughlin, & Minchello.
One of the firm's namesakes, Lou Rainone, brought with him the business of New Brunswick's neighbor Franklin Township, which he has represented for years.
Partner David Minchello has since taken over the general counsel position for the powerful New Brunswick Parking Authority (NBPA), replacing longtime NBPA counsel Leonard Bier on January 24.
According to POLITICO's Matt Friedman, the powerhouse firm also secured business from the improvement authorities in Middlesex County and Union County, as well as the Mt. Holly Municipal Utilities Authority, and local governments in Plainfield, Newark, Woodbridge, Trenton, South Amboy, Matawan, and Brick Township.
After Coughlin prevailed in the intra-party fight for the number three job in state government, the firm is expected to reap even more government contracts.
In addition to the NBPA position, in 2018, the firm has already secured a labor counsel job with Scotch Plains in Union County and the township solicitor position in Westhampton in Burlington County.