At Gloucester college, bipartisan groundbreaking as election season heats up

SEWELL – Gov. Chris Christie came to this South Jersey college town Monday and shook hands with the man his party is trying to unseat: Senate President Steve Sweeney.

In New Jersey politics, this kind of across-the-aisle photo-op has become something pundits have grown used to seeing.

But this was more personal than political for the state Legislature’s top Democrat. Sweeney’s daughter, Lauren, whose dream of attending college can now become real, benefits – as do countless other students with disabilities – from the $750 million bond issue for new college classrooms that voters passed last November, a project that was a joint mission for Sweeney, Christie and others.

The lawmakers broke ground Monday on a $4 million, 14,000-square-foot addition to Gloucester County College’s Adult Transition Center.

Christie was here along with Sweeney and other leading South Jersey Democrats Sens. Donald Norcross and Fred Madden. Also in the audience was one of the Third District Republican Assembly candidates, Gloucester Freeholder Larry Wallace.

Absent were the other 3rd District Republicans, Sweeney opponent Senate hopeful Nikki Trunk and Assembly candidate Bob Vanderslice, who were out campaigning, spokesman Chris Russell said.

Christie essentially referenced the balancing act that he has mastered: “This is a result of the people in Trenton working together,’’ he said to an audience of several hundred. “We hope what you see is that ‘yeah, every once in a while we get it right.’’’

Christie, who frequently stresses bipartisan successes, said the groundbreaking today – the product of R’s and D’s cooperating – speaks to what society values.

Sweeney, who was coping with the emotion of the moment as he hugged his daughter, said “Every person has value, and every person deserves an education.’’

He acknowledged the kind of relationship he and Christie have developed through the governor’s first term: “We’ve cursed,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve cursed more than he does, but the governor stood side by side with me when they tried to shut down the disabilities center.’’

Still, this is an election season, and Republican challengers fighting uphill battles have had to quietly endure their leader dropping into the enemy’s back yard.

And Sweeney is aware of that.

“Tom can spout whatever he wants,’’ Sweeny said, a reference to Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr.’s boast that he will supplant Sweeney as president next year.

“They’re not going to get it,” Sweeney said, adding he is campaigning as if he is 30 points down instead of holding poll and money advantages.

On this sun-splashed afternoon, his ebullience came from his confidence in the campaign dwindling to a precious few weeks, but there was no doubt it also derived from this latest bipartisan achievement, accomplished with a governor whose party wants Sweeney out of a job.

“Every person is born with a gift. That’s what Lauren believes in,’’ Sweeney said, “and I believe in doing this in a bipartisan way.”

At Gloucester college, bipartisan groundbreaking as election season heats up