New-look lower house leadership sparks comparisons to Sires era

The Democratic caucus observed the new lower house leadership in effect last week during the lame duck session and the chambers instantly buzzed.  

Part of the deal South Jersey Democratic Leader George Norcross struck with state Sen. Nick Sacco (D-32) of Hudson County to preserve Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) as speaker gives Assembly Majority Leader-elect Lou Greenwald (D-6), Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32) and Assemblyman John Wisniewksi (D-19) input on which bills get posted, sources told  

In the face of a fractured caucus, Sacco agreed to back another term for Oliver only on the condition that Prieto get budget chair, and with the proviso that Prieto have the power to help Oliver decide the agenda.  

Norcross’s deal granted those same powers to Greenwald and Wisniewski, sources say, prompting at least one caucus leadership critic to quietly deride the arrangement as a power share that weakens Oliver.   

Oliver allies dispute that it lacks precedent.  

Former Speaker Albio Sires, for example, relied heavily on the counsel of then-Assembly Majority Leader Joe Roberts, argued a source. What they don’t mention was that Roberts was also always a friendly phone call away from his regional friend and close ally, Norcross.  

Another source close to the speaker said the conditions of the deal only require Oliver to meet and conduct talks with fellow leadership about what goes on the agenda and the board but that she retains the final say on what goes on and what doesn’t.  

But at least one critic says strengthened inner circle roles for Greenwald and Wisniewski ultimately means more power for Norcross, who has fostered close alliances with both caucus power players.  

Already in possession of tight relations with state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) on the Senate side, the move to distribute power among Prieto, Wisniewski, Oliver and Greenwald in effect also gives Norcross a stronger hand over the Assembly, said the source, arugably re-establishing close to what he had when Roberts was an Assembly leadership player.   New-look lower house leadership sparks comparisons to Sires era