Sources say the announcement by Speaker Joe Roberts (D-Camden) today that he intends to retire at the end of the year creates the opening his South Jersey colleague, Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester),needs to makehis move in the upper house.
Standing in Sweeney’s way is Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) of North Jersey, who doesn’tintend to back downin the face ofthe ambitious majority leader who begins his leadership quest with six solid votes in the South Jersey political constellation.
Sweeney today kept the focus on the re-election of incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine.
“What I’m doing right now is helpinghim get re-elected,” said the senator. “The otherconsiderations come after the big election – the most important election.”
Although rumors of Roberts’s impending retirement have been active for over a year, his announcement of a step-out a day after Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie registered a ten point lead over Corzine in the latest Quinnipiac University poll prompted some quizzical off-the-record reactions from Democrats.
Sweeney said no one should read into Roberts’s decision to retire now, and denied that it signals doom for the governor.
“Joe Roberts will be there in spades for the governor’s campaign,” said Sweeney.”He will be the speakeruntil the end of the year. This is a tough decision for Joe. Without questionit’s tough to let go of something when he would have the votes to be speaker again, but it’s wonderful to do things on your terms. Anybody who thinks Joe Roberts won’t be involved in getting the governor re-elected doesn’t know the man.”
Sweeney and Roberts go back to when the latter was a bartender in Bellmawr before launching his 22-year career in the Assembly.
“Joe’s got a helluva legacy; he can go to sleep every night, put his head on that pillow, and rest peacefully for the things he’s done,” said Sweeney. “He was like our Ted Kennedy on social issues and paid family leave and creating legislation to benefit disabled children, for which I am personally grateful.This is a man, too, who put South Jersey on the map politically going back to 1999 when he walked out of the caucus and said they weren’t taking us serious. No one has done more to raise our profile.”
Now most sources familiar with Trenton say that job will primarily fall to Sweeney in the Senate.
As for the Quinnipiac poll numbers showing Corzine floundering behind Christie, Sweeney said he has more trust in the Corzine campaign’s internal poll done by Carville which shows the governor down by just two points in a three-way race with Christie and independent candidate Chris Daggett.
“Iuse those guys for my own polling,” said Sweeney.”They’re good. I’ve run eight times in 14 years and they’re always on target. This is not a double digit race.”