EWING TOWNSHIP – The post-election luncheon panel got started late, awaiting the appearance of Democratic legislative leaders who’d been busy over at the State House all morning, tending to the wounded in their intra-party pre-election battles and installing new floor generals for each house.
Senate President Steve Sweeney showed up first among them at the Trenton Country Club, where a lobbying group was hosting its annual Election Day postmortem.
He’d just capped an eventful couple of days with a caucus meeting where his 24 Democrats unanimously installed Loretta Weinberg of Bergen County as majority leader; replacing the combative Sen. Barbara Buono.
The Assembly Demcorats were busy marching one of their own before the firing squad, so Speaker Sheila Oliver, who’d successfully turned back Majority Leader Joe Cryan’s aggressive-but-doomed bid to topple her, also was late to the event. She arrived even after the Assembly Majority Leader-designate, Lou Greenwald, who’d just been installed in a unanimous vote to replace the Union Democrat who, like Buono, doesn’t think his fellow Democrats are acting – or voting – like Demcorats.
Republican Sen. Joe Kyrillos and Assembly Republican Conference Leader Jon Bramnick had no such scheduling conflict. Of course, there’s not going to be much in the way of insurrections to put down when your party’s top general issuing the orders is a domineering governor with a national reputation and state approval numbers north of 50 percent.
And the panel’s first order of business was to answer a question touching on that governor that was put to them by moderator and Politicker contributor Jim Hooker.
Hooker held up two newspapers from the morning after Election Day – one from the Star-Ledger’s front page proclaiming in huge typeface, “Dems Strike Back, Finally Give Christie a Black Eye.” The other, headlining the lead stories in the Trenton Times, said “”It’s good to be an incumbent.”
So which was it, the incumbency factor and a newly redrawn legislative district map that favors Democrats or did Gov. Christie get a black eye in a legislative election where not a single seat went over to the Republican side, including the biggest battlegrounds of LD 38 and LD 2.
Bramnick pronounced the Ledger headline “way over the top,” saying the state’s largest newspaper has “pent up anger. They were just looking for their chance to strike back at the governor.”
But overall, both Bramnick and Kyrillos, echoing the governor himself, blamed the new map; saying there was little Christie could’ve done to put any Republican over the top except for seats the party already controls.
“Enough on the map,” Sweeney barked in frustration. “We beat ’em on the field with better candidates.”
“In April you love the map,” an angry-sounding Kyrillos countered. “Today you think it’s competitive.”
Speaker Oliver said she believed it was a little of both: a map that virtually everyone agrees favors Democrats and a governor who fell short of delivering on his vow to “make history” this election by picking up at least a seat in a midterm election; or at least not losing one (they did lose one seat, Republican Domenick DeCicco, in a reconstituted 3rd district). Jim McGreevey was the only governor to pick up seats in a mid-term the past 48 years.
Greenwald, whose said to harbor his own ambitions for one day occupying the governor’s office, possibly as soon as the next election, said the Ledger headline didn’t go far enough.
His imagery invoked an analogy that seemed pulled from a famously funny scene out of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
“He got two black eyes, a body punch and cut off at the knees,” Greenwald said of the governor’s wounds suffered at the hands of Democrats on Tuesday.
Perhaps the newly minted Majority Leader-designate was recalling the Black Knight from the Holy Grail. His sword fight with King Arthur led to statements like “’tis but a scratch,” after losing an arm, and “just a flesh wound’ amid a fight where he’d ultimately lose all his limbs and be reduced to a stub of an armored knight who nonetheless wouldn’t give up.
“Alright, we’ll call it a draw,” the feisty Black Knight intoned.