There’s some HUD (Housing and Urban Development) buzz again around U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), namely that he could go there if Joe Biden wins the presidency.
This is strictly parlor room stuff right now, we’re not saying it happens; only that there’s considerable speculation about New Jersey’s junior senator wanting to sharpen his executive credentials before he takes another crack at the presidency, not that the parlay worked for Julian Castro, who crapped out of the 2020 presidential sweepstakes just prior to Booker despite having a HUD stud on his executive belt to add to his mayoral stewardship of San Antonio.
Still, laying a Nov. 3rd beatdown on Republican Rik Mehta hardly looks like the kind of power augmentation Booker craves.
So if he does indeed bear a torch for HUD, the question becomes who would Gov. Phil Murphy appoint to that seat (and if he’d install someone who would battle to stay in there and not merely occupy it temporarily), and a conversation earlier today with an insider produced some names, in no particular order.
Here’s the rough contents of that mid-afternoon beer hall rap:
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal
His names circulates among not just one but several sources, although we’re not saying the same guys
aren’t all talking to one another. It would give Bergen something to talk about, a county that has become almost Hudson-like in terms of monolithic Democratic Party rule. It would be a choice reminiscent of when Gov. Chris Christie rewarded his own Jiminy Cricket Attorney General Chris Chiesa to plug the U.S. Senate seat in 2013, before Booker grabbed it in a special election: as reward for a job well done and for, presumably, loyalty.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6)
There’s a play here for Murphy, if he truly has tired of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3). If he picks the veteran Pallone (denied the seat in that 2013 special election), he frees up the congressional chair for state Senator Vin Gopal, who’s committed to Sweeney’s reelection to the senate presidency. If Murphy uploads Pallone and Gopal to senate and congress respectively, he can go into warzone mode in his home county to get a progressive into the seat to supplant Gopal, bearing his own – not Sweeney’s fingerprints. It could play havoc in a close caucus leadership fight, at the very least unravelling Sweeney inevitability. The trouble is, Sweeney swooped in on the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and got done that Chapter 78 reform the teachers wanted, and while they certainly wanted to get rid of him in 2017, could they realy lift their spears in a primary against a candidate he went all in with post deal? They did with Amy Kennedy, unceremoniously trampling on the senate prez’s political intentions even after they got what they wanted, but it would be different with more runway room? Also, at what point would Murphy – deviously trying to jump through political hoops to land a measly state senate seat – realize the dismal setting-in of parochial Trenton swamp creature transformations when the real goal was to get to the presidency himself? He commanded a worldwide stage once as an ambassador. Does he really want to get deep into the Delaware weeds on this one?
Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver
The once mighty Essex – home to the biggest plurality of Demorats in the state – would look fairly
toothless on the statewide stage without a player, part of Booker’s role in occupying the U.S. Senate. Sure, Oliver occupies the LG spot and serves as Department of Community Affairs (DCA) commish, and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones is poised to be the next Democratic State Committee marshal, but lacking a powerful elected still makes Essex look bad. Oliver could prop up the House of Essex in Booker’s absence. But again, it’s not as though there’s any wounded human cry for power out of the northern county, which has, despite Jones’ grap for the chairmanship – mostly seemed satisified all these years allowing South Jersey to take the lead on political gamesmanship (and shenanigans).
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11)
She already trails gov buzz in the north, with insiders bored by the Murphy Administration’s missteps and overly theatrical appearances seeking relief in the form of a genuine political rock star. If we’ve learned anything since the COVID-19 crisis, it’s that veterans like Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli and newcomers like CD2 star Amy Kennedy have made most of the men – who were playing political Dungeons and Dragons in Trenton while the coronavirus prepared to hit our beaches – look foolish. It would seem odd, or certainly primitive, to install another uninspiring male in the seat while a warpaint-wearing helicopter pilot like Sherrill waits in the wings. It would be a popular choice for Murphy to make, to be sure, and reflective of party-building and demographic alertness, reminscent of Jon Corzine’s choice of Bob Menendez for the empty senate seat in 2005. It lacks the backroom intrigue of a pick like Pallone, though, which on its face looks lackluster, but promises chessboard panache behind the scenes (see above) at the Statehouse.
U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1)
We don’t really know where the backroom scuffle between Murphy and South Jersey political boss
George Borcross III is at this point. We just know the knives came out, all hell broke loose, and then everyone climbed back into their foxholes. If Norcross has the upperhand somehow, then Murphy could feed Donald to the senate seat to relieve the tension. But it doesn’t appear that it’s going that way, particularly since Murphy felt no compunction about leaping into the CD2 Primary and backing Amy Kennedy, who took another embarrassing chunk out of the mastodon hulk otherwise known as the South Jersey Democratic Machine. If Kennedy defeats the Christie-Trump-connected Van Drew on Nov. 3rd, political insiders will chalk it up as another change in the power structure of the south, further weakening a statewide play here for Congressman Norcross.