No one knew what was going on in the mind of Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood).
Was he just being a cowboy, riding out there on his own, compelled to hitch his buckboard to the self-funding star of former Goldman Sachs boss Phil Murphy for his own political gain, sure, but mostly just for the sheer inane fun of it?
Or was he domino dropping, the first as part of a concerted establishment effort to swing Democrats away from Senate President Steve Sweeney in preparation for an all-out united front against Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop?
Or was it powerful state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) – to date a stout Sweeney backer – hedging her bets, throwing a loyal ward like Johnson onto the Murphy parapet to ensure that she and her district mates have at least two legs in every significant gubernatorial camp? Weinberg sticks with Sweeney; Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (D-Englewood) shadows Fulop, and now Johnson moles Murphy.
Political insiders chewed those options this morning a day after Johnson declared his formal support for Murphy, a move that appears to pit him against Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman Lou Steelato, who leans Fulop.
At least one insider was unprepared to offer analysis.
“Johnson’s an idiot,” the source stewed, irritated by the move and unwilling to dissect its political significance.
In line with the first theory, a second source said the assemblyman either intends not to run for reelection next year, or understands that Stellato won’t be with him come crunch time and so is simply going rogue early.
“He’s Loretta’s lapdog usually, but he’s not smart enough to understand the big picture,” the source opined, shrugging off the endorsement as little more than fun fodder.
But more than a handful of sources entertained the idea that Johnson’s move may have been an absolutely calculated and coordinated move, bearing the imprimatur of the party’s darkest high lords, who continue to privately wring their hands over Sweeney’s candidacy. The fact that Weinberg was in the room last night stoked the theory. Johnson’s suction cupped to Weinberg. Why would he act without her blessing?
Insiders see Weinberg welded politically to former ironworker Sweeney.
“Loretta’s going to get an earful today from the senate president,” a Bergen source cackled. “And I hear Laura Zucker [Party Chair of Teaneck], another Loretta lapdog, is [also] going to go Murphy. She [Weinberg] sees no path for Sweeney and if this is her last hurrah, she doesn’t want to become a back-bencher.”
A second source picked up on the framework of the argument, convinced that LD37 shop steward Weinberg is simply engineering the inevitable: Sweeney’s northern demise. She and state Senator Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) have loyally stood by Sweeney, even gone to Stellato personally and begged him to give the South Jersey senate president consideration.
But Stellato hasn’t budged.
“Is Loretta softening the edges for Murphy, in case that’s the play for Stellato, who absolutely won’t back Sweeney – maybe,” the source said.
Another source, a Fulop fan, said Murphy’s roll-out of a virtual nonentity like Johnson signals – not strength – but the Goldman retiree’s own doom.
It’s Murphy, not just Johnson, who’s going rogue, the source teased.
“Murphy given up on Stellato?” he said deviously.
Then there’s the last theory, the least considered, in point of fact, in which the senate majority leader is simply securing the Murphy corner of the tent with one half of the political paper weights at her disposal in LD37, relying on Huttle to handle the Fulop end of the equation, while she sturdily fire blankets Sweeney.
But maybe with the exception of Weinberg, no one really knew exactly what Johnson was thinking, except Johnson.