Experts don’t think Rutgers University Prof. Alan Rosenthal is likely to be intimidated by Gov. Chris Christie’s presence at the Heldrich Sunday, where Rosenthal serves as the tiebreaking 11th member of a redistricting commission that cannot come to an agreement regarding a legislative map for the State of New Jersey.
Christie arrived at the downtown luxury hotel in a black sport utility vehicle and stayed for the whole day while five Democrats and five Republicans – and Rosenthal – worked exactly one week in front of the constitutional deadline for a map to serve New Jersey for the next decade.
Out of power for the last ten years, Republicans crave a Senate majority.
“Obviously the Democrats have the upper hand because of the way Rosenthal laid out his priorities,” said political scientist Patrick Murray of Monmouth University. “The Republicans brought in their big gun to sway the process. Certainly that person (the 11th member) can be influenced by a variety of different methods, but I don’t think it’s going to work.”
Insiders wondered today if this was Christie’s version of George Norcross intimidating former Sen. John Bennett, or even Phil Alagia, chief of staff to Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, standing in the back of the room with arms folded, monitoring state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) of Newark.
“Alan Rosenthal has seen it all,” Murray said. “He’s not likely to be particularly impressed. It’s a political process. Certainly Chris Christie has a presence, so why not have him there? It’s odd, it’s unusual, but there’s nothing unconstitutional about it. He’s trying to gain the advantage.”
Professor Ruth Mandel of the Eagleton Institute of Politics is a longtime colleague of Rosenthal’s. She said it’s unlikely Rosenthal felt anything other than welcoming toward the governor.
“Alan Rosenthal is a student and expert of government and politics,” Mandel said. “He is open to listening to leaders and experienced people. I couldn’t think of a better person to take on a tough challenge like this. He is someone who will be interested in everyone’s comments.
“I think he’ll be interested,” she added specifically of Christie’s input. “He has a tremendous respect for our system of government and the people in government.”
One source said the Republican governor played an active role in the Republican redistricting team’s presentation to Rosenthal. Murray wanted to know if the presentation represented a Republican break from their past efforts during this process.
“The original map was bolstered on two points: minority representation and partisan fairness, both of which Rosenthal discounted as key priorities,” said the political scientist. “Have they made a new framework?”
State Sen. Bob Gordon (D-38) of Fair Lawn, a target this political season of the GOP, according to sources, said he was uncomfortable with the news that Christie attended Sunday’s redistricting meeting.
“I thought it was inappropriate for the chief executive of the executive branch to play a role in the process,” Gordon said. “It’s a purely legislative process.”
Two sources said Republicans – currently down 24-16 in the state Senate – want to pick up five seats, and they see their best opportunities in the 2nd, 4th, 14th, 38th, and possibly the 36th.
“Yes, potentially there would be opportunities in those districts for Republicans, depending on the final lines,” said Murray. “Those are areas adjacent to a number of Republican-leaning towns. Shift lines one way or the other and there is an opportunity.”
Christie left Sunday without taking questions from reporters camped out at the Heldrich.
“No statement necessary,” said Christie Spokesman Michael Drewniak.