The defining moment in New Jersey’s gubernatorial race may have come early this cycle, but the wrangling between North and South is far from over.
In the fallout of former U.S. ambassador Phil Murphy’s early clinching of the Democratic nomination in the 2017 gubernatorial race, talks are underway between regional party bosses and county chairs on who will rise to the top of the N.J. caucus after an election many have already called for the Democrats.
The open question now is who will assume the speakership in the lower house—Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32), from Hudson, is reportedly up for an appointment to the Department of Community Affairs in a Murphy administration.
Sources familiar with the early talks say the southern delegation backed by South Jersey boss George Norcross is dead set on denying Bergen County the speakership.
Regional consensus on an uncontroversial midlander could be the easiest path for all sides. South Jersey was in talks with the Central Jersey Middlesex County Democratic organization to cut a deal on Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19) as Prieto’s successor as recently as last week.
The North, however, wants Assembly Budget Chair Gary Schaer (D-36). That won’t fly with Norcross, who sources say is taking the same hard line with Schaer that he did with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop.
The South will likely back Wayne DeAngelo (D-14), an IBEW president whose long history with the building trades mirrors the ironworker bona fides of Murphy’s erstwhile Norcross-backed primary rival Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3). But northern chairs will be wary of giving the south two seats out of three.
On the Senate side, Sweeney looks to be in a comfortable position.
As the party unifies behind Murphy, Sweeney looks likely to retain his title with gubernatorial supporters on deck to support him for another two-year term. His allies in Bergen pledged their support minutes after his announcement that he would not be running against Murphy, and other supporters like Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-29) are likely to follow.
Senator Joe Vitale (D-19), from central Middlesex County, has Assemblyman and former Senate President Dick Codey of the 27th district’s vote of confidence to challenge him.