New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Thursday appointed state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa as an interim replacement for the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D). Chiesa will only serve for a few months, until the October special election decides who will serve until the November 2014 general election.
Before Christie made his pick public, no one outside of New Jersey had ever heard of Chiesa. (It's pronounced Key-AY-zuh). So, who is the soon-to-be newest member of the Senate?
The Bound Brook, New Jersey native is a close Christie ally and career attorney who has no experience in elected office. A former chief counsel to Christie, Chiesa also worked with the governor when he was in the U.S. Attorney's office. Christie's pick continues a trend of governors appointing Senate placeholders who are close confidants.
Chiesa's father was a chemical plant worker who died when the attorney general was just eight years old, according to a 2012 Newark Star-Ledger profile. Chiesa's mother, a teacher, raised him and his two sisters.
A 1987 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Chiesa earned a law degree from The Catholic University of America in 1990. A practicing Catholic, Chiesa has served as a Eucharistic minister at his church.
Chiesa went on to become a civil litigator at the law firm Dughi and Hewit. And it was there that he met Christie and started a relationship that has spanned more than two decades. "I've obviously known Jeff for 22 years," Christie said Thursday.
After more than a decade in private practice, Chiesa moved to the U.S. Attorney's office in 2002, where Christie also served. After Christie was elected governor in 2009, Chiesa became the executive director of his transition team. He then served for two years as Christie's chief counsel. Chiesa has been attorney general for about a year and a half. His tenure began in January 2012.
What kind of senator will Chiesa be? He described himself as a "conservative Republican," and a border-security-first GOPer on the issue of immigration, a hot topic in Congress right now.
“I think the first thing we have to do is make sure the borders are secure,” Chiesa said. “From there, these issues are new to me.”
Chiesa was quick to acknowledge the limits to what he can hope to accomplish in what is expected the be about a four-month stint in the upper chamber.
"What do I hope to achieve? I've got a limited time period to contribute. I will try to contribute in every way that I can," Chiesa said. "But I don't kid myself into thinking I'm going to go down there with a handful of draft bills and start moving them as soon as I get there."
Chiesa lives in Branchburg, New Jersey, with his wife, Jenny, and their son and daugher, according to a biography provided by the governor's office. He opened up to the Star-Ledger about his family for the paper's 2012 story about the then-newly minted attorney general:
A calm, mild-mannered father of two who lives in Branchburg, Chiesa crossed his legs and often smiled at questions before talking about his new post, his love for the law and his passion for Notre Dame football. He showed off art projects by his daughter and 13-year-old son, Al, and talked of the patience of his wife of 19 years, Virginia Sullivan, featured in the many photos around his desk.
"There’s certainly no question where I rank in the pecking order at home," Chiesa said. "It’s fourth."
Aaron Blake contributed to this report.