George Norcross, the leader of the South Jersey Democratic Organization, whose brother Donald has the organization’s backing to run for the 5th District Assembly seat that Speaker Joe Roberts (D-Camden) will vacate at the end of this year, called Roberts’s retirement a “sad day” for New Jersey.
“He’s the finest legislatorin my lifetime to serve in the South New Jersey delegation,” said the political boss who along with Roberts, U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-Haddon Heights) and others built the party machine.
“Speaker Roberts’s governmental legacy hasto do with laws he’s proposed and enacted augmenting servicesfor those unable to provide them for themselves,” Norcross said of his longtime friend. “On the political side, he led a South Jersey delegation from two assemblymen and a senator inthe 5th Districtto 18 members strong. Most of those districts were occupied by Republicans and wereRepublican-leaning districts. Joehelped devise theblueprint for how Democrats capture suburban districts and helped elect Adler, Madden, Sweeney, and Van Drew.”
Norcross’s brother will have the party backing for Roberts’s seat, and will attempt to occupy a place most Democrats say the 22-year veteran Roberts served with distinction.
“Roberts labored as a good soldier,” said Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro).”He’s a good exampleof someone whoknows that the strongest politics lies in successful public policy. This is a man who’srock-solid intellectually and with that combination of politics and policy embodies the complete statesman.I came in as part of a new majority and was priviledged to be part of leadership discussions with Speaker Roberts as assistant majority leader.”
A member of the budget committee who’s popular in his caucus as well as on the other side of the aisle, Burzichelli has been mentioned as a possible successor to Roberts, but he said he’s committed to re-electing Gov. Jon Corzine and has not considered a leadership play at this time.
“All I can tell you isour South Jersey delegationmade up of about12-13 people in the Assembly will be very unified when it comes time to sort this out,” the assemblyman said.
Freshman Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton) recalled Roberts’s attentiveness to new members of the caucus. Roberts told DeAngelo to listen more thanspeak, and to carefully consider arguments from Republicans as well as Democrats. Criticized for his efforts to reform the rules governing the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) to facilitate the creation of more suburban affordable housing, Roberts urgedDeAngelo’s class of legislators to tackle big issues.
“This is a speaker who considered the best interest of everyone and was 100% a class act,” DeAngelo said.
North Jersey also admiredRoberts.
“He’s been instrumental in my winning and certainly under his tutelage I’ve had the opporuntity to chair a major committee,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), chairman of the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. “His retirement comes as a tremendous loss, for he is anextraordinarily bright man – a real policy wonk. His combination of political savvy and public policy concern makes him unique.
“I’ve been in the Assembly for two terms now,” added Schaer. “He’s the speakerto whom I willforever compare others. He’s a great and good man, fair and sincere. I hope that whatever decision the caucus makes regarding his successor is made made with the same wisdom made in selecting Joe Roberts.”
AssemblywomanL. Grace Spencer (D-Newark) saidthe Assembly is losing a “great speaker.”
“The environmenthe’s created is one of collegiality.Icould not have wished for a better speaker during my freshman year as an assemblywoman,” Spencer said.