Codey regenerates in Morris County with GOP support, says he won’t negotiate with party bosses for governor

EAST WHIPPANY – His powerful enemies hoped to redistrict him into political oblivion.

So far, that plan has gone woefully awry, as state Sen. Richard Codey (D-27), Roseland, delivered a setpiece of friendly Republican officials this morning to demonstrate his recuperative powers.

Hours after the release of a poll showing the former acting governor in a statistical dead heat for first place among potential 2013 Democratic contenders for governor, the group of 12 Republicans formally backed the re-election of Codey, who occupies a district that now includes a significant chunk of Morris County.

“I am honored and humbled that these Republican officials have enough faith in me to endorse my candidacy for re-election to the state Senate and share my belief that it does not matter if you are a Democrat or a Republican – to get results and deliver for your constituents we must work together,” said Codey, who, as it turns out, has ties to some of these westward migrants out of Essex going back to the days when he squired his wife around in the days leading up to their marriage.

These were old friends – the majority of them from those Republican towns new to Codey’s longtime Esssex County-based, heavily Democratic 27th district.

Reps from Hanover, Chatham Township, East Hanover, Hanover and Florham Park were more than happy to drive the bipartisan message on Codey’s behalf.

“It’s not a foreign country to me,” said the Fairleigh Dickinson University graduate, who unnerved Democratic Party bosses with his official Statehouse gubernatorial portrait, stirring their craving for an opportunity to mount the former Senate president’s head on a wall by sacrificing him up to heavily Republican Morris.

There was disappointment in Joe D. and Norcross land when during the redistricting process Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan, (D-20), and others curtailed an all-out relegation of Codey to Roseland and Morris County two years after the Democratic alliance dumped Codey off the Senate rostrum.

They wanted an utter demolition, particularly with the continuing hovering possibility of a Codey gubernatorial candidacy.

Several of the politicians issuing their endorsements at a podium with Codey in the Hanover Marriott delighted in discussing old school Essex ties to “Dickie.” They all made clear their preference for the veteran senator had more to do with their personal affection and admiration for him than a fear of Codey’s general election opponent, Tea Party Republican William Eames.

Proud of the renegade title, Eames gave the Essex County establishment GOP pick the heave-ho in the primary, splintering the 27th District Republican Party in the process and giving them – through their support for Christie – an opportunity for revenge.  

At least one of them suffered a crippling defeat in June to an Eames ally in a local mayoral race, in a county where the majority party also weathered a bloody freeholder primary divided between establishment Freeholder Margaret Nordstrom and another stubborn Tea Party challenger.

After months of legal wrangling, Nordstrom finally won a county committee convention last week to earn a spot on the general election ballot as the GOP nominee, but Hanover Mayor John T. Sheridan wasn’t as lucky.

“His many years of experience will serve our district well,” the lame duck mayor with deep Newark roots said of Codey.

“He is the best person for the position of State Senator of the 27th District and will do the best job for the residents of the Township of Hanover.”

Others strongly endorsing the senator included Chatham Township Committeeman Bill O’Connor; Dr. Pat Pelosi of East Hanover, a member of Gov. Chris Christie’s education transitition team; former Florham Park Councilman Jack Conaway (also Newark-born and raised); Florham Park Mayor Scott Eveland; Former Hanover Mayor Sal Iannacone; former East Hanover Mayor William Agnellino; former Caldwell Councilman Joe DeBellis; Essex Fells Mayor Ed Abbot; former Roseland Councilman Richard Reynolds; former Essex Fells Councilman Mike Cecere; and retired NFL lineman Tony “Goose” Siragusa.

During a campaign cycle in which Codey has dominated the cable television airwaves with trenchant criticism of Morris County resident Christie, leaving allies to inevitably discuss the prospect of Codey’s decision to run against Christie in 2013 and return to Drumthwacket, talk turned to Codey in a statewide context. 

This morning’s Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll shows 46% of Democrats and unaffiliated voters have no preference for a challenger to Christie. But about one in five or 18% prefer Codey. That’s one point behing Newark Mayor Cory Booker (19%).

Pelosi all but endorsed Codey.

“You always knew where Dick Codey stood,” said the GOP educator. “I thought I knew where the current governor stood. I was wrong. From that (state Senate) seat, we hope to return him to the governor’s seat.”

Although his was the strongest worded, Pelosi wasn’t the only one to emit a cry of protest in Christie’s direction, or to at least highlight an issue of significant difference between Codey and Christie. Iannacone said Codey’s advocacy of mental healthcare (which Christie cut in his last budget) is “one of the reasons I’m here to offer him my continued support.”

A Republican from Florham Park, Siragusa said he has nothing to do with politics.

“I’m a big guy on people,” said the retired NFL player. “He’s straight shooter.”

With the exception of Pelosi, the group several times emphasized that their support for Codey is specifically for his current office, not governor. 

Codey was coy on the subject amid back chatter about his statewide manuevers.

He had a fundraiser last night attended by over 300 people, including seven county Democratic Party chairs (including Bergen’s Lou Stellato, Hudson’s Mark Smith, Passaic’s Mark Smith) and has opposed Christie on several significant issues, including the GOP governor’s signature accomplishment: public sector health and pension benefits reform.

Downplaying his ultimate willingness to run for governor, some insiders point to the acting governor’s history, which suggests enough political guile to avoid fights rather than engage.

“He wouldn’t put himself out there like that and risk that kind of scrutiny,” said one Democratic Party source. “He wants to be in a position to inherit the governership, not run for it. That’s not Dick. He doesn’t want the cavity search.”

The same source – and other insiders – conclude that Codey is simply positioning himself to play havoc with legitimate gubernatorial contenders and make himself relevant at the party negotiating table with power bosses George Norcross III of South Jersey and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo.

Codey said no way.

“I won’t negotiate,” he told PolitickerNJ.com. “I’ve never taken anything from them, nor will I.”  

Codey regenerates in Morris County with GOP support, says he won’t negotiate with party bosses for governor