The Greenwald gambit: Assembly Majority Leader negotiates tricky Trenton chessboard

TRENTON – State Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) should have seemed satisfied by the end of Monday’s legislative day.

Among the bills passed by the Assembly and sent on to the Senate on Monday was A2035. Approved by a wide 68-2-7 margin, the bill revises the law concerning the rights and responsibilities of motor vehicle franchisees and franchisers in a notably significant way.

A key provision of the bill, of which Greenwald is one of the primary sponsors, regards the concept of “treble damages.”

This provision of the proposed law, found in section 9 of the bill, would allow auto dealers to collect triple punitive damages if they won a a lawsuit against a manufacturer. Treble damages have been generally reserved for consumer lawsuits against corporations, not business-to-business lawsuits. Therefore, passage of this bill would set a precedent in New Jersey. Few other states permit this. 

Few other states engage in the type of brutal back-room brawls that in many ways define New Jersey politics. But what ensued following the Assembly’s passage of A2035 resembled a botched sniper attack on the upwardly mobile but as-yet South Jersey-centric Greenwald, a possible future candidate for speaker or governor. 

One Democratic legislative source told PolitickerNJ.com that Greenwald, who worked at a car leadership when he was younger, had “rammed through” A2035 despite the concerns of some legislators and even Greenwald himself. Another Trenton source whispered that the considerable financial support Greenwald has received from the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers (NJ CAR), a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the interests of franchised new car and truck retailers throughout New Jersey, through the organization’s political action committee (PAC) had influenced Greenwald’s actions.

But other voices rose in defense of Greenwald. One Democratic legislator said  that Greenwald has provided “plenty of opportunity” for consensus-building about A2035’s components during the bill-making process. Other Trenton voices wondered aloud if the whispered negative assertions about Greenwald’s support of A2035 were a last-ditch attempt by manufacturing interests to derail the bill.

One Democratic legislator spoke out prominently in support of Greenwald, who has been in the Legislature since 1996 and has been the Assembly Majority Leader since 2012.
“What’s [Greenwald’s NJ CAR support] got to do with the price of tea in China? Lou Greenwald is constantly running around all over the state raising funds to help out our Democratic colleagues in the caucus, such as those in competitive districts,” said state Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33) in an email. “That’s why, despite [Gov. Chris Christie’s] margin in last year’s election, Assembly Democrats had a net loss of zero.  

“Now some of us weren’t born with silver spoons. The Majority Leader put himself through law school selling cars,” Mukherji continued. “So it’s natural, if what you’re saying is accurate, that an industry familiar with him or folks who are impressed by his leadership on complex issues would want to support his team. In the caucus, we’re lucky to have the leadership of stand-up guys like [Assembly] Speaker Vinny Prieto (D-32) and Lou.”

In an interview with PolitickerNJ.com, Greenwald defended his support of A2035, then leveled his gaze at his detractors.

“I believe this legislation helps to level the playing field between manufacturers, that are great companies that trade on Wall Street and are worth billions of dollars, with some 600 small business owners in New Jersey that while varying in size and success, need a level playing field,” Greenwald said. “I have offered, and continue to offer, as recently as [Monday], to continue to meet with the manufacturers and the franchisers to drive a level of compromise so that everybody feels comfortable with this legislation going forward. These two entities are inextricably linked. We need each other to be successful. I would like to work together to find a level of compromise. I can’t force someone to come to the table. And I can’t force someone to suggest that they should compromise. All I can do is open the table and offer them that opportunity, which I have done in this transaction and I have done in every transaction.”

The Greenwald gambit: Assembly Majority Leader negotiates tricky Trenton chessboard