Where is Sweeney-Weinberg Going if Bergen gets Brutal?

Sweeney and Weinberg.

Sweeney and Weinberg.

It’s two weeks away, so let’s talk about the 2016 New Jersey Primary.

No, actually, let’s instead hone in on the 2017 gubernatorial contest.

Consider Bergen County and the potential there for the three or four or five way Democratic Primary race to create real turbulence.

Consider the unlikely successful political partnership of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Senate Majority Loretta Weinberg (D-37), either a classic case of opposites attracting, one more example of Sweeney’s ability as a caucus leader to simply win over would-be foes, or simply friendly political opportunism and Machiavellian pragmatism founded on regional power-sharing.

For years, Sweeney fans have walked around saying their guy “gets things done.” Of course, just as Hillary Clinton demonstrates routinely with a variation on that same slogan, the familiar code acknowledges that Sweeney isn’t going to exactly set progressive crowds screaming like televised Beatles fans.

Of course, he’s tried.

Marriage equality. Minimum wage. Public sector worker mea culpas. Expletive-laden excoriations of Governor Chris Christie in the newspaper.

But it’s still a heavy lift to picture Sweeney causing the descendants of Charlotte Perkins Gilman to go ape with anything other than Christie fatigue.

That’s why his ironworker-welded political relationship to Weinberg fascinates.

In a swamp… er, state… run by a handful of bosses and hundreds of Goodfellas extras, Weinberg is probably the closest thing New Jersey has to a progressive leader. This is, after all, a place where the head of the Bernie Sanders Campaign starts the revolution by making a beeline to Camden to publicly endorse the younger brother of the state’s most powerful party boss. If you mention the word “issues” in Hudson  County, you’ll be laughed back across the Hackensack. But Weinberg actually has the record of a progressive’s progressive, blogs regularly on Blue Jersey, and picks fights and follows through on them enough to convince her followers statewide that they have a real champion. So if she runs for reelection next year on turf chopped into a Kurosawa landscape by the gubernatorial contest, and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop – not Sweeney – gets the organization line in Bergen County – will she be sufficiently devoted to her Trenton ally to stage a renegade run against the organization?

Can she feel confident aligned with South Jersey pragmatist Sweeney?

Sweeney antagonists, of course, argue no. They howl behind the scenes when they consider the prospect of Weinberg off the line and attempting to kick-start her primary cred while encumbered by the same South Jerseyan who partnered with Republican Christie to overhaul public pensions and benefits. They argue that it’s a fatal political partnership, one that will force the senate majority leader into uncomfortable contortions of having to explain Sweeney to firebrand backers fed up with Christie.

“We’ll vote for you, Loretta, but don’t ask us to…”

That was the way one insider put it to PolitickerNJ just yesterday.

Talk to Sweeney allies, though, and you hear the thesis nutgraphs of a book-length political feel-good story about how a marriage equality activist from the north and conservative district-leery prag from the south came together as the unlikely gunship skippers to win a significant historical social battle. You hear a case made for Sweeney’s skill at being able to rely on the expertise of others for certain things and giving his fellow senators the leeway to undertake their own causes and cases (see Weinberg on women’s issues and Bridgegate), and for being open-minded enough to make them part of the senate agenda.

You hear a case made for the two Democratic leaders complementing each other to forge a human Tao symbol of party unity.

But where that goes next year continues to be a question mark, as Sweeney appears intent on going for the governorship and in a good position statewide, Fulop looks to have an advantage for the line in Bergen, Weinberg shows no signs of slowing down, and Sweeney-Weinberg has come together over time as, at the very least, a 2017 political consideration.