TRENTON – The Senate Democrats moments ago backed state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) to be the replacement for Sen. Barbara Buono (D-18) as Senate majority leader.
“The caucus made a decision,” state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), West Deptford, said later. “The majority leader is a political spot. The caucus unanimously supported Loretta.”
The Senate prez and Weinberg exchanged beaming looks.
“I’ve never been known as shy and retiring,” Weinberg told reporters, and it was true by the reckoning of insiders who sized up the new majority leader as a progressive policy point duplicate of Buono and similarly-styled D legislator (strident opponent of pension and benefits cuts), right down to – and this appeared key – gender.
This morning, a flummoxed Buono wrote a letter to Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) telling him she would not seek another term as majority leader.
Not a future candidate for governor, feisty Jewish grandmother Weinberg replaced Buono uncontested when upper-chamber Democrats reorganized, with Sweeney remaining at the top of the totem.
Following the meeting, the door to the Senate caucus chamber flung open and emptied senators onto the shiny tiles.
State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) strode out quickly with eyes straight ahead.
“Hello, everybody,” she said, her stare forward fixed.
State Sen. Nick Sacco (D-32) appeared – the dealmaker who landed Assemblyman Vinny Prieto (D-32) the Assembly budget chair in exhange for backing another term for Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34).
“I wish I had you in my county,” a colleague cracked to Sacco.
Later, Dem leadership from both houses crowded with reporters into a conference room and officialized the deal that returned Sweeeny unanimously to the Senate presidency, retained state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36) as budget chair and welcomed Weinberg to her new role; reaffirmed Oliver as speaker and welcomed Assemblyman Lou Greenwald as majority leader, Prieto as budget chair and Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-22) as speaker pro tem.
The leaders stood at the front of the room and the assembled press couldn’t shake the sight of a powerful Norcross nimbus.
Sweeney tried to talk it down.
“In 2006, (Sweeney and other legislators) stood up and said we have to save the state,” the Senate president explained, referring to his first efforts – long before Gov. Chris Christie was in office – to reform the public sector pension and benefits system.
Amid all of the Sweeney/Buono squabbling, this was the policy point differential where the former Senate majority leader gained the most traction in contrast to Sweeney and Christie.
Reporters’ questions suggested the close alliance among Christie, Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and South Jersey Democratic Leader George Norcross III drove the agenda, pension and benefits then – and now public education reform.
Sweeney stayed with the former.
“You give way too much credit to the people who aren’t in this room,” Sweeney told reporters, a reference to the power bosses.
Oliver doubled down on her stance regarding education reform. She said she does not want to tamper with successful public schools, but is open to a dialogue regarding poorly performing urban schools.
“I have not heard one iota of commentary (from Christie) on the challenges related to urban schools,” Oliver said.