The Ironworker and the Teachers: Steve Sweeney’s Backroom Brawl

Senate President and likely gubernatorial hopeful Steve Sweeney welcomed statewide Democrats to the convention Sunday

Senate President and likely gubernatorial hopeful Steve Sweeney welcomed statewide Democrats to the convention Sunday

Senate President Steve Sweeney’s (D-3) move today against the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) indicated the depth of backroom angst between the senate prez and at least two public sector unions, a Trenton source said.

Sweeney has struggled for years with public sector labor, going back to his pre-Chris Christie efforts to reform public pensions and benefits and the threat of repudiation at the 2007 annual AFL-CIO meeting in Atlantic City.

In mea culpa mode after Christie reneged on full pension payments, Sweeney sought a constitutional amendment requiring that the state increase payments into the government worker pension fund.

The Trenton source today said that Sweeney knew he couldn’t put up the pension payment bill without support in the senate and used the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) fight as an excuse. The teachers subsequently became irritated because he had already made a promise to put up the amendment for a vote.

Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) had already passed a version of the bill in the Assembly and it was time for the Senate. In response to teachers accusing Sweeney of breaking his word, the tough guy ironworker slammed back with a stunning rejoinder: “You guys are criminals.”

Most insiders believe the move doesn’t bury Sweeney’s 2017 gubernatorial hopes. They speculate that Sweeney likely knew they wouldn’t be with him anyway and is concentrating on reinforcing other existing pockets of support. The senate president and likely 2017 candidate for governor also has the benefit of knowing that no other top tier Democratic candidate for governor has the political history to be able to naturally call the NJEA an entrenched ally.