In the back of the room

TRENTON – Organizational bedlam is an oxymoron but it comes close to describing the duress of Essex Democrats last week.

Panic ensued in Essex County power chambers when state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) cracked in the senate and approved giving the Legislative Oversight Committee subpoena powers to cross-examine former Department of Education Commissioner Bret Schundler.

Made under the threat of a wounded caucus tired of getting kicked around by Gov. Chris Christie and intent on payback, Ruiz’s tortured vote – which obviously aligned her with Christie foes – sent a wave of pain straight into the inner sanctum of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who enjoys BlackBerry rapport with the governor and may be the Democrat elected official closest to Christie. 

There is no confirmation that DiVincenzo actually told Ruiz, “I’m your caucus,” but if he didn’t – it was close.

In damage control, DiVincenzo enlisted Chief of Staff Phil Alagia to put Ruiz in reverse engines mode.

At the hearing today, Alagia explained his backroom presence as convenience (“Meetings in the area”), but party buzz made him sentinel of Essex County’s interests with the governor’s office.

Trying to atone for last week’s debacle, Ruiz tried to seat state Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove) to give the GOP more bodies on the panel, and then affixed a voluble stamp of disdain on the event, to Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono’s (D-Metuchen) chagrin – and all under the watchful, and approving – eye of Alagia, who loomed in the back of the room. 

State Sen. Sandra Cunningham’s (D-Jersey City) equally scathing dismissal of the hearing and efforts to seat O’Toole underscored the Republican governor’s cross-the-aisle power. In the back of the room