On the Beach: Christie’s move gives Brown a win in unfolding legislative drama


Governor Chris Christie and South Jersey Democrats… Perfect together.

The derivative ad would not feature that famous Greenwich Connecticut clench delivery by New Jersey’s eminent elder Republican statesman, but rather, likely, the narration of someone like Regis Philbin, secured for the job on a recommendation by Camden County Democrat Kelly Ripa.

But after today – at least in the context of this one decision – such a configuration would appear decidedly 2013, when Christie campaigned avidly for re-election with the likes of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack up north and left handfuls of South Jersey Republicans to die on the beach as South Jersey Democrats romped to victory.

Bothered by Christie at the time for what he felt was the GOP governor’s decision to abandon South Jersey Republican candidates for the sake of preserving good relations with powerful and Christie-acquiescent Democratic machines, Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2) lashed out at the governor on the Harry Hurley Radio Show.

But that was then, this is now, and now Brown looks like the unwitting winner – at least for this week – as a consequence of Christie’s self-promoting instincts, which this time didn’t hinge on Democrats.

Today, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) irritably endured the governor’s adult-in-the-room oratory, one of Christie’s favorite tropes and especially difficult to bear, sources acknowledged, as he zips in and out of the state.

Ultimately, one source told PolitickerNJ, the governor’s boardwalk imperial gesture had little to do with Brown – often an island in overlapping GOP/Democratic political business circles – and 2015 district-wide politics, and everything to do with trying to appear engaged and broad-shouldered as Atlantic City spirals.

Brown coincidentally won the day.

The moment he stepped out and defied Mazzeo’s plan and watched local and county support on both sides of the aisle amass against it – the feeling of being blindsided a common criticism among those elected – Brown built political advantage.

Christie’s quickie appearance this morning with the announcement that the state would henceforth assume control of the city’s finances simply provided the coup de grace, ironic because Christie and Brown never appeared politically close and because the governor’s self-serving optics dovetailed not, this time, with the interests of South Jersey Democrats, but with a – wait for it – South Jersey Republican.

But if Christie mussed Sweeney’s hair in their ongoing gentleman’s duel, ultimately Republicans are operating with the expectation of George Norcross III dumping $3 million into LD2 to lick the incumbent Republican assemblyman.

GN3 will throw $3 million at Brown, the source speculated. Brown will have $1 million to defend.

One source today described Sweeney’s mood as furious.

If so, he’ll have the general election to expend that anger.

It would have been nice for Mazzeo to have the additional ammo of the PILOT program for the casinos – maybe he’ll get it yet – to take before the general election voters and appear regionally heroic But without it, he’ll still have the money and Norcross’ and Sweeney’s and South Jersey Democrats’ redoubled motivation now to detonate Brown.

But Sweeney simultaneously remains peeved over Atlantic County Freeholder Will Pauls’ decision to run for the assembly. The Republican’s a building trades guy, the foundational life blood of Sweeney’s career in politics. The idea that Pauls would throw in with Brown against the PILOT program as Mazzeo delicately tried to negotiate an advantage rankled Sweeney.

The source said Sweeney’s allies continue to try to persuade Pauls to rethink his commitment to running for the assembly.

Sweeney and Christie are friendly, but the senate president also felt banged up today because at one point through the process he thought the governor was on board with the PILOT program. Yet the governor, pawing at a presidential run, came in and, in the words of one source, “said this is my ball.”

“At least this time the governor’s office made the call,” the source added, noting Christie’s decision to tip off the locals so they didn’t also experience the blindsiding of a state takeover on top of the legislative moves-making of Sweeney and Mazzeo.

Sweeney had also labored to build a relationship with Republican Mayor Don Guardian, who by virtue of the takeover now looks like a bystander in his own city and hardly the political forward-player initially envisioned by Democrats who thought they had scored a major victory by landing Guardian in their backrooms.

Christie made complimentary comments about Guardian in his brief appearance before the cameras, prompting a source to roll his eyes and acknowledge “well done,” even as he added in the next breath that most players around the governor have come to hear those shout-outs for what they are: politically expedient and empty.

One source close to the action shrugged off the criticism of Christie that he’s going through the motions in New Jersey at this point, arguing, while on the ground in a listing Atlantic City, that if Christie somehow miraculously becomes president, “think of the payoff for New Jersey.”

The immediate consequence of the takeover was advantage Brown, who once questioned how Christie’s strategy provided him with an advantage. It wasn’t pretty, arguably, or done with any consideration of Brown really, the source emphasized – but it gave the GOP assemblyman a toehold.

For the moment…


On the Beach: Christie’s move gives Brown a win in unfolding legislative drama