The day the bosses died

Thursday’s subpoena resolution in the senate angered Gov. Chris Christie, who felt he could count on Senate President Steve Sweeney

Thursday’s subpoena resolution in the senate angered Gov. Chris Christie, who felt he could count on Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and other key Democrats connected to engines of power and reliant on the state’s strong chief executive.

The resolution empowers the subcomittee on Legislative Oversight to legally compel former state Commissioner of Education Bret Schundler to give his version of why the Christie administration lost a shot at $400 million in Race to the Top education reform dollars.

Of course, Christie didn’t want that.

When the senate a week and a half ago considered a subpoena on a motion from Senate Majority Leader (and Legislative Oversight chair) Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), division in the caucus and a Sweeney smooth-over with the governor killed the measure.

But while Christie thought the subpoena issue was dead, Sweeney made it clear that if the senate didn’t receive all requested documents from the administration, he would again entertain a subpoena, probably in a more narrow context, and finally focused specifically on Schundler.

If the Republican governor initially enjoyed fracture within the Democratic caucus, come crunch time, he trusted in the relationships he built with state Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-Union City), and the powerful Democratic organizations represented by Sweeney (the South Jersey Democratic Organization) and state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) (the Essex County Democratic Party and the Office of the County Executive). 

Stack is his own urban political animal who relies heavily on state funds. The governor counted on him for a “yes” vote on the budget earlier this year, and figured he would be reliable standing firm against a subpoena that Christie resented, which he felt would strip him of executive privilege.

Yet if Buono and the Democrats again sought subpoena power for Schundler, the governor believed they would ultimately run into two imposing structures, for whatever the best individual intentions of Sweeney and Ruiz – they are still intimately connected to the machinery of their respective party operations. Recognizing the power and demands of those organizations, Christie has a phone-call-away comfort level with George Norcross III in South Jersey and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo (for whom Ruiz serves as deputy chief of staff). 

When Sweeney – juggling the demands of his organization and individual Dems and now fearing a caucus grown weary of his closeness to the governor – drove the subpoena resolution and mustered the necessary votes, Christie was incredulous. The fact that it was a tortured Ruiz – similarly under pressure from her caucus – who finally put up the last vote in favor of Buono’s subpoena, likewise galled the governor.

An infuriated Christie killed the phone lines.

Norcross in South Jersey and DiVincenzo in the North were reportedly both irritated with Sweeney and Ruiz respectively.

Yes, the caucus, the caucus – but business is business.

From the beginning of his tenure as governor, from the moment he stood onstage with Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) (a Ruiz stablemate at Essex County), Christie has assumed the gold medal platform with those two operations staunchly at either side.

Now, after Thursday’s subpoena, those relationships are suddenly in jeopardy.   

The day the bosses died