TRENTON – A well-heeled pest at this point to his most energetic detractors, Senate President Richard Codey (D-Roseland) looked like a hero last Thursday on the rostrum with time ticking down to some of those late arriving gay marriage proponents who wanted an ally in high places.
Nearly simultaneously, in county politics, the veteran outgoing Senate President doubled down – to all appearances – with good government fervor to deal the forces of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo a humiliating blow when Codey rejected Joe D. chief of staff Phil Alagia’s appointment to a seat on the Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield Board of Directors with an invocation of senatorial courtesy.
Codey’s counter punching in the face of those twin organizations that dethroned him – South Jersey Democrats and DiVincenzo’s Essex Democrats now have the former governor determinedly playing the role of cloakroom outlaw.
Today, one day before he steps down as Senate President to cede the job to the man who beat him, state Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney of South Jersey, he defended himself.
“I block a guy who between three public jobs would be one of the highest paid people in the state, and now they want to block my appointments,” asked Codey, a reference to DiVincenzo forces threatening to retaliate with their own version of senatorial courtesy in the persons of core allies state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) and state Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair).
“That makes me look like the bad guy?” Codey wanted to know. “If that’s what they want to do, bring it on.”
Codey loyalists say there was no 2013 calculation behind his voting in favor of the marriage equality bill, but acknowledge that his stance would enable him, in a statewide Democratic primary, to cut in front of Sweeney, who abstained on marriage equality, and who’s known to nurse his own gubernatorial ambitions and abstained on gay marriage.
Other insiders say that spin is ridiculous since it was Codey as the leader who needed to have summoned the votes in a caucus he controls in order to truly embody party leadership. Instead, the measure suffered a rather dismal 20-14 defeat with just 13 Democrats voting in the affirmative.
Whatever the condition of Codey’s marriage equality cred, however, to Blue Jersey-styled progressives, an apologetic Sweeney 24 hours before reorganization already looks like a man kayoed on the way to the ring as his old rival this afternoon eschewed the idea that the occasion of his last day as Senate President called for an Essex County version of Pericles’ funeral oration.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Codey said, eyes twinkling. “That kind of speech is for (retiring Assembly Speaker Joe) Roberts to make, not me.”
In command of a seat at the table for legislative redistricting, GOP Sen. Kevin O’Toole – a cross-the-aisle ally of both Sweeney and DiVincenzo – has been entrusted with the uncomfortable task of handling Codey.
According to sources, O’Toole has considered the possibility of trying to relegate the departing Senate President to the equivalent of political no-man’s land by putting the Roseland-based Democratic Party senator in a district dominated by Morris County, and letting state Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) knock him off.
“I’ve never heard of that,” Pennacchio told PolitickerNJ.com. “I have zero to do with that process. I assume the map will be friendly to all the incumbent senators.”
But for the moment, unfriendliness abounds in the world of Codey and those dominating north-south structures of his own party as he leaves one seat of power but keeps fighting on two fronts.