It’s all over but for the spoils of war, say sources, and PolitickerNJ believes them, as retired Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy appears this week to have sent a second rival Democratic Party gubernatorial chariot crashing into non-contention.
Last week it was Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, and this week it’s Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester).
Murphy minder Brendan Gill spent his morning walking down Essex. Tomorrow, Hudson, Passaic, Bergen (and Morris) and maybe Middlesex will stand unified for Murphy and Essex is dotting Is and crossing Ts.
Essex is supposed to come out for Murphy on Friday.
The sew up for Murphy by the northern counties – minus Essex – represents a power push back against the considerable political influence of South Jersey Democratic Leader George Norcross III, who for years has schooled them and kept them tangled in small bore firefights while keeping South Jersey together and maintaining key relationships, such as the ones he has with Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and Governor Chris Christie.
Other chairs have had enough of being humiliated, and moreover don’t want to cut a deal with Norcross that would empower him, or give him any kind of significant sway over the levers of executive government. They fear giving him more governmental power and then becoming a target of that power. So when Fulop departed last week they quickly made their own case for unity around Murphy.
State Senator Nick Sacco (D-North Bergen) stood up at a meeting in New Brunswick and laid out the north county chairs’ Murphy World road map. Others nodded in agreement at the private soiree.
The bar napkin notes – hashed out around Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s fundraising appearance in New Jersey – basically boiled down to the following:
Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Paterson): Lieutenant Governor (not actually mentioned at the meeting but kicked around in aftermath conversations)
Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic): Speaker of the General Assembly
Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus): Director of the state Department of Community Affairs
Then there was the big one.
Middlesex Democrats want leadership.
They want leadership so badly that they have held out until they get the best possible deal.
But the trouble for Sweeney is that a deal for Middlesex leadership in Norcross world means either longtime Norcross loyalist Senator Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) for senate president or Building Trades spear-carriers Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo or Assemblyman Joe Egan as speaker.
The McCabe wing of the party wants state Senator Joe Vitale (D-Woodbridge) as senate president or Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) as speaker.
That push puts the county at odds with Bergen, with either Coughlin in a taffee pull with Schaer for speaker, or Vitale on a collision course with whomever Hudson or Essex tries to dredge for senate prez.
On board with Murphy early, former Governor Dick Codey continued to work the phones for Vitale, trying to line up support for his longtime loyal colleague, the man who supported re-upping Codey for senate president back in 2009 when Smith instead opted for Sweeney. A source close to the action said Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe doesn’t rule out making a case for Smith as senate president, but the Woodbridge contingent is hard in with Vitale.
“Remember,” a source told PolitickerNJ as McCabe tries to negotiate that tug of war in his own county between Vitale and Smith, “the first person Kevin sat down with after he wont he chairmanship was Bob Smith.”
Then there’s Essex.
The mighty Essex.
In the scrap for leadership, the other counties will make the case that Essex was slowest to getting down to the finish line for Murphy.
They’re there, inevitably.
But it was DiVincenzo still trying to inflate the badly mangled Sweeney tire with Norcross while the others were taking the lead on a Sweeney alternative, whether it was Fulop or Murphy.
Still, Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones could make a backroom case that he saw early the hazards of trying to prop up Sweeney and was leaning Murphy with the likes of senators Codey, Ronald L. Rice, and Nia Gill – not to mention former Speaker Sheila Oliver – all tugging him in that direction.
With Murphy all but assured the lion’s share of key county organization support, there are talks going on internally about leadership.
Now is not the time, runs one school of thought. Let’s get through the presidential and decide later.
Now is exactly the time, the other school argues.
The latter school appears to be outpacing the former, as counties are eager to line up support for leadership based on the timeliness of their support for Murphy.
If the Goldman Sachs alum had seized on the northern chairs quest for unity in the face of their South Jersey rival, and capitalized on Sweeney’s weakened condition with public sector unions as a consequence of his fistfights with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), he now must face the far thornier thicket of trying to sort out their various leadership demands.