TRENTON -Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and veteran Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) exchanged harsh words in the Senate Democratic caucus chamber this afternoon before state Senator James Beach (D-6) stepped in to keep the men apart.
Rice insists it wasn’t going to come to blows. He said he stepped forward when he saw Sweeney rise, in part because he couldn’t hear. But he also told PolitickerNJ that he wanted to make sure Sweeney knew that he had no intention of backing down from his position.
At issue is Sweeney’s state takeover bill targeting Atlantic City, which the full senate will consider at today’s session. There was some grumbling in Trenton last week when in committee senators Nellie Pou and M. Teresa Ruiz abstained on the bill, despite criticizing state takeover measures in their home towns of Paterson and Newark respectively.
Both women are close allies of Sweeney, a 2017 gubernatorial prospect.
For his part, Rice said he thinks the senate president’s bill is a disaster, and the Marine Corps Vietnam War combat veteran and former Newark detective had no trouble trying to go nose to nose with the massive, heavy-handed ex-ironworker from the docks of Camden.
“I was very firm in my position,” Rice told PolitickerNJ when asked about the dust-up with Sweeney in the caucus room. “This bill is allowing the state to take away constitutional authority from local elected officials. Look, they did that with the school board [in Newark]. This is dis-enfranchising people. That bill applies to every other city. You never know when businesses are moving out. Women and minorities have struggled for too many years to represent people, and now you’re taking away authority by way of legislation. If you read the bill, this is about one person coming up with a stabilization plan.
“The whole issue is about taking away statutory constitutional authority, and it’s going over everyone’s heads,” Rice added. “They don’t want local government to have any authority. The assets of Atlantic City are going to other entities. That’s my point. Don’t take away our authority. It’s bad to take away the authority of the local governing body and the new council members who just came on. The federal government is not going to come in here and take over the state; neither should the state take over Atlantic City.”
Rice said whether it’s Camden, Newark, Jersey City or Atlantic City, generally he’s found that it’s the same handful of powerfully connected entities that prosper while local municipalities worsen.