ATLANTIC CITY — What a difference a year makes. At New Jersey State Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald’s kickoff event for this year’s League of Municipalities conference at Caesars Atlantic City, likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy worked the crowd in the same ocean-view reception hall where one-time primary rival Senate President Steve Sweeney had hosted his own opportunity to campaign before the campaign last year.
That reception was in competition with Murphy’s own during the same time-slot last year. But after Murphy’s surprise rush of endorsements from influential North Jersey chairs earlier this year, Sweeney’s path to the nomination disappeared. At Tuesday’s reception, hosted by his longtime southern ally Greenwald, Sweeney was conspicuously absent.
Sweeney, sources familiar with the Senate President’s itinerary said, was attending a private dinner instead.
It was a hard year for Sweeney: his and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop’s gubernatorial campaigns ended before they even started, his proposed constitutional amendment to mandate quarterly payments into the state’s underfunded pension system stalled for another year, and the ballot question he favored to allow casino gaming outside of Atlantic City tanked at the polls.
Murphy now faces just one opponent in the primary, Assemblyman John Wisniewski — much to N.J. Democratic chairman John Currie’s displeasure. Greenwald, Sweeney’s partner in brokering a deal on gaming expansion and the recent state takeover of Atlantic City, acknowledged that Murphy will most likely be the Democratic choice in a race that many have called the Democrats’ to lose.
“I would think so at this point, yeah,” he said. “I think he’s doing the smart thing, he’s putting his head down and moving forward. I don’t think he’s taking anything for granted. But I’m really pleased with the work he’s done, and I think a lot of him.”
The state takeover and the election of one-time Atlantic City casino magnate Donald Trump to the presidency will loom large over this year’s conference, as will Governor Chris Christie’s prospective place in the Trump administration following the state’s 10th credit downgrade.
Greenwald said of the takeover, which Sweeney and Christie both ardently insisted on before allowing Mayor Don Guardian and the city council to devise their own, eventually rejected plan over a period of months, that he would have preferred to give the city more options in the negotiations. He offered the city its first concession with a 100-day reprieve to balance its budget for the final takeover agreement.
“I think it’s one of those things where they should have had a couple of other options and plan ‘B’s.’ But my goal is to work closely with the local administration, both the mayor and council,” he said of his role. “They took advantage of it during the legislation, they haven’t taken advantage of it so much since the legislation passed. But my goal and my hope is that the city goes through the kind of renaissance that we’ve been fortunate enough to see in Camden.”
As for the question of where Christie will land in Washington, Greenwald said that he has found some of Trump’s hiring decisions questionable so far. After giving Christie’s position as the head of his White House transition team to vice president-elect Mike Pence, Christie’s options narrowed even further when RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and fringe-right shock blogger Stephen Bannon were also awarded coveted spots.
“I don’t know enough about the Trump administration,” Greenwald said. “I wasn’t close to any of the people involved on that side. Some of the appointments they’ve made are not the direction I would go. So I can’t even hazard a guess.”