Insiders say recurring signs indicate state Sen. Majority Leader Steve Sweeney’s (D-West Deptford) ready to challenge state Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) for leadership in November, although Sweeney insists he doesn’t know for sure at present.
“Discussions will take place in November,” said the South Jersey lawmaker, whose remarks this morning in a 101.5 FM interview that he wants to be senate president “someday” instantly sent reporters’ into fullbore Sweeney-seeking mode.
Sources close to Sweeney say there’s astrong chance he willchallenge the former governorfor control of the caucus this year, and political animalsadd up the following as proof that he’s inches away from that battle:
He threw a bash in Atlantic City at the same time Codey partied with supporters;
Hespoke at Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s fundraiser;
He hauled up to Jersey City for a state Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) fundraiser;
He’s carefullycultivated a relationship with state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), the independent-minded chair of the budget committee;
Despite fellow South Jerseyan Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts (D-Camden) public statements that he’s dug in for another term in office and intends to seeka leadershipposition,Roberts isby no means locked into the Speaker’s job at this point, which gives the entire Statehouse situation enough play for Sweeney to make his move;
He’stight withstate Sen. Minority Whip Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove), who can pull some GOPvotes in the event Democrats split their loyalties between Codey and Sweeney;
An anonymous website is up and running – has been for months – dedicated to bashing Codey.
But Sweeney dismisses it all ascloak roomgossip.
“The fact that I go up to North Jersey shouldn’t be read as I’m definitely challenging Sen. Codey,” he said. “I’m supposed to attend events as Majority Leader. The fact is, Sandra Cunnignham voted for me (in caucus, to be majority leader). I was friends with her husband, and Joe D. is a dear friend of mine.
“I move out of South Jersey, and everyone makes a big deal out of it. You’d think I was from a different state.
“At some point, Sen. Codey will want to retire,” Sweeney added. “The point is, I’m not fighting with Codey at all.”
The fact that Codey asked the clerk to open the machines two weeks ago on the EnCap legislation while powerful Democratic Party swing man state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) was absent from the room could indicate that all is not sweetness and light in Lesniak-Codey land, fueling the possibility that Lesniak could send his senate troops into Sweeney’s column.
Butboth sides – Codey and Lesniak -insistthe vote callwas just miscommunication and shouldn’t be interepreted as a case of unsheathed daggers.
Gov. Jon Corzine is now examining wheter he wants to make changes to the EnCap bill to suit Lesniak, who told PolitickerNJ.com the night the budget passed that he believes there are some contradictions between the EnCap legislation and his economic stimulus package, which the senate also passed.
In the meantime, these Democratic Partylegislative leaders find themselves lined up behind a governor who trails GOP challenger Chris Christie in the polls.
In a phone conversation today with PolitickerNJ.com, Sweeney insisted he’s ready to get his allies in the trenches for Corzine.
“For people like me, the alternative (to Corzine) is not what we’re looking for,” he said. “I worked as a freeholder director under a Republican governor. If you got a call back, it was weeks later and the answer was almost always no. I could see funding for us drying up all over the place without Gov. Corzine in charge.”
Sweeney said Corzine has played a significant role in landing half a million in mass transit dollars for his region, supported a port project that is close to construction, and acritical hospital project.
“People know that I’ve had my disagreements with this governor (notably over state workers’ contract agreements),” Sweeney acknowledged. “But I’m going to work extremely hard tore-elect him.”
Mentioned early as a candidate for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Dana Redd’s (D-Camden) name surfaced again this week as a possible running mate for Corzine.
“She solves a lot of needs,” said one North Jersey political insider. “She’s black, from South (Jersey) and a woman.”
She’s also committed to running for mayor of Camden, an announcement earlier this year that removed her from contention as an LG prospect.
“I don’t know how real it is,” Sweeney said of the latest backroom buzz around Redd. “Camden needs someone like Dana, and I think she has her heart set on that. With or without someone on the ticket from South Jersey, I’m going to work very hard for Jon Corzine.”
As for his own aspirations in the senate, “I said Sen. Codey does a good job,” saidSweeney, referring to his radio interviewfrom this morning.