Norcross, amid LD5 speculation, applauds Christie on Camden High restoration announcement

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CAMDEN — In lieu of a personal appearance at the press conference where Gov. Chris Christie joined state and Camden county officials to announce $5 million in building rehabilitation funds at Camden High School this morning, newly-minted congressman and former fifth legislative district senator Donald Norcross (D-1) heralded the news with a statement — applauding the governor and others for “honoring their commitment” to the city and its public schools.

“Making sure that our students have a school that is safe and modern is the first step to ensuring their academic success,” said Norcross. “This $50 million investment will not only address the much-needed  structural needs at Camden City High School, but it also demonstrates our ongoing commitment to the City of Camden and its residents by providing top rate classrooms where opportunities for success are achieved. I applaud Governor Christie and the SDA for honoring their commitment to Camden schools and will continue my efforts to improve South Jersey’s educational facilities as Congressman.”

Norcross, who was sworn into Congress last month after winning a special election in South Jersey’s first congressional district to replace retired U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews and is in Washington today, might have missed the presser, but his presence was nonetheless felt. As chairman of the Schools Construction Subcommittee while senator, Norcross had worked on obtaining the funds for the repairs, officials said, in the state’s upper house — and rarely does work get done in Camden without a Norcross receiving thanks.

His presence was also felt in another way, however, as speculation continues to build over who will replace him in LD5.

Names that have been mentioned as replacements for Norcross, who defeated Republican Garry Cobb in the district and will go on to serve the remainder of Andrews’ term and his own full term starting in 2015, include state Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D-5) and Camden County Surrogate Patricia Jones — though any hints at which way Democratic leaders might lean have been hard to read.

Assemblyman Whip Wilson, who has also been named as a potential candidate and was present at today’s presser, said any leads on the search for Norcross’ successor have been kept locked up by party leaders, calling it the “best kept secret since the Manhattan Project.”

Wilson himself has expressed interest in the seat. Last month, the 26-year veteran of the Camden Police Department and a Vietnam veteran told PolitickerNJ that he was “still interested.” He reiterated that opinion today, saying he hopes his name is in the running.

“But we have a lot of talented people in the fifth district,” Wilson added. “Whoever it ends up being will be qualified.”

Democratic party committee members are expected to meet soon to vote on who will fill the unexpired term. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) has said that no names for a replacement have been put forward yet, but observers note that the candidate is likely to come from Camden County, which makes up most of LD5. The district is made up of Camden and Gloucester counties.

“The district is predominantly Camden County, I would expect someone from Camden County would come forward,” Sweeney told NJ.com last month.

Another potential candidate at the presser today was Camden Mayor Dana Redd, who joined Christie in announcing the $5 million restoration project in the gymnasium of Camden High. Redd has also been touted as a possible replacement, being the former legislator that preceded Norcross in the Senate — though when asked about her own plans, she expressed little interest in the seat.

“I know it’s being debated but my commitment is staying with the city,” Redd said.

Sources say the replacement that would make the most sense might be former Assemblywoman Nilsa Cruz-Perez, who moved aside as Norcross, the brother of South Jersey power broker George Norcross III, himself entered the legislature in 2009.

Norcross, amid LD5 speculation, applauds Christie on Camden High restoration announcement