The Strain of 2017 Gubernatorial Politics Under the Ongoing Games

Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato.

Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato. PolitickerNJ for Observer

Whether it was Bridgegate or presidential politics, the gubernatorial contest continued to occur underneath everything, dominating the backrooms of New Jersey politics.

Players were making moves.

Tom Byrne was getting in and not looking back. The son of former Governor Brendan T. Byrne for years had dangled himself out there as gubernatorial material and received scores of scattered ho hums in response. But he was getting in this time, and he was going to run. Hard.

October 1st was the date.

It created no sensational ripple outward, away from the main currents of intrigue.

Those originated with Phil Murphy, the former Goldman Sachs pooh-bah eager to prove early to skeptics that he wasn’t simply Jon Corzine with a personality. Murphy spent a strong, solid week last week throwing out numerous Bergen County endorsements in an effort to prove strength and hopefully outflank the incipient candidates of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

The optics of numerous rebels cropping up on his home turf irritated Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman Lou Stellato, and might have driven him farther than ever from Murphy. Maybe Murphy was closer to Corzine than advertised, after all, a source told PolitickerNJ. If he doesn’t get what he wants, he starts throwing money around.

Other chairs took note.

If Murphy could embarrass Stellato like that, he could also upend the pedestals of other would-be party strongmen.

Days after the Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) endorsement rolled, Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones stood up in pin-striped magnificence at a leadership meeting and reminded his troops that he didn’t want to see another Bergen in Essex. They were to stay together “and get to know the candidates” before coming out formally.

State Senator Nia Gill (D-Montclair) looked like the cat who swallowed the canary.

That whole 34th District contingent appears close to bear-hugging Murphy.

State Senator Dick Codey (a former Governor) is with Murphy.

And Codey’s old ally, state Senator Ronald Rice (D-Newark) leans Murphy.

But Jones was adamant. He didn’t want to see anything official until they moved as a group.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, of course, didn’t get that memo. He’s already all in with Fulop, whose troops appeared rattled amid the ongoing salvos by Team Murphy.

Fulop was still depending on Stellato, who might have told one too many people he was with the Jersey City mayor, enough to rile Murphy. He was also depending on an increasingly wobbly-looking Passaic County Democratic Committee Chairman John Currie, and Hudson  County.

He had a statewide launch planned for November – just like Sweeney.

But nothing was easy for Fulop, an establishment target ever since he attacked George Norcross III earlier this year.

A few years ago, attorney Michael Critchley commanded a roomful of Stag at Sharkey’s lookalikes in a ballroom in Belmar filled by Steve Adubato, Sr. “There are no Democrats or Republicans anymore,” Critchley announced to the ghoulish backroom faces. “There are only registered opportunists.” Now Critchley’s the attorney for defendant Bridget Kelly in the Bridgegate trial and evidently on the verge of getting Fulop on the stand to determine what the Jersey City mayor knew about the machinations of transactional politics in the 2013 gubernatorial election.

Sweeney allies are loving it, convinced that Fulop on the stand will show the mayor to be not ready for prime time, and reveal the depth of his transactional propensities. This week they stepped talks with Jones and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who were also feeling tugged at by Murphy’s people.

DiVincenzo, for his part, is agonized, in the words of one source, tethered by virtue of loyalty and longstanding political ties to Sweeney and South Jersey Democratic boss Norcross, but unconvinced of Sweeney’s ability to dominate Essex.

Knowing his fragile condition right now, Murphy allies are all over the powerful executive, telling him (and Jones) that the pair of Essex Democrats can end the race now by backing Murphy. Their support for the Irish American would pull a ready and able Middlesex, and probably yank Passaic, too, then fold in an oxygen-deprived Sweeney and South Jersey.

Of course, DiVincenzo can’t go Fulop.

He hates him.

But he also is too close to the riled Norcross.

If Essex went Murphy, Fulop would be left standing on Hudson alongside a jittery and already-Murphy-chewed-away Bergen.

But DiVincenzo won’t go there, a source told PolitickerNJ amid seething declarations that he’s rearranged the county slogan from Putting Essex First to Putting Camden First.

In other developments, both state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Hillsborough) prepared their own roll outs in the coming days.

Ciattarelli appears to be preparing a soft launch, which he could retract in the event that Christie gets bounced out of office by Bridgegate, an eventuality that would give Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno the too-tough-to-overcome advantage of running as the Republican incumbent in a primary.

Sources say Democrats are reluctant to push Bridgegate investigations for a couple of reasons. If they blow up Christie, they would empower Guadagno and furnish a runway for her into the 2017 general election. They would also put a spotlight on Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), which the establishment sees as absolutely unnecessary as long as Sweeney’s the establishment candidate for governor.

As for presidential politics, the general reelection was six weeks and change away, and no one among the political animals in these parts occupied with the concerns enumerated above appeared even to know that there was a debate last night.



The Strain of 2017 Gubernatorial Politics Under the Ongoing Games