A 22-year veteran of the Legislature, Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-3) responded stoically to his loss on Tuesday night, as the Democrat fell with his slate mates Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro.
A former Paulsboro mayor and engaging, down to earth presence in Trenton who distinguished himself as a state budget expert, Burzichelli said he and his LD3 allies got caught in the political crossfire, succumbing to an environment dominated by public reaction to Governor Phil Murphy’s pandemic policies and the stalled debate in Washington, D.C. around President Joe Biden’s agenda.
“There was a lack of enthusiasm in South Jersey to support the Governor, and so Democrats stayed home,” Burzichelli told InsiderNJ. “Legislative races don’t excite anyone and there was no political activity in this cycle working from the ground up to help drive people to the polls. It is so clear to me that people’s thinking in this election was dominated by the soap opera going on in Washington, D.C.”
Burzichelli lamented the death of newspapers in LD3.
“There’s no robust local news, and so people’s emotions by and large are dominated by being mad at Washington,” said the assemblyman. “You put that together with some of the pandemic politics and it was the combination of a match and kerosene energized by anger. Voters sent a message.”
They aren’t happy with the governance of the state or the country.
InsiderNJ asked Burzichelli if he thought Sweeney running statewide as an incumbent governor instead of districtwide would have changed the outcome of the election in New Jersey, and given Sweeney a bigger margin of victory over Republican Jack Ciattarelli, whose campaign planks practically mirrored Sweeney’s Path to Progress agenda.
Burzichelli said he didn’t know. There are too dynamics in a New Jersey general election.
“The region I live in is not excited by an overly progressive agenda,” Burzichelli said. “People are center of the road, and people were anti-Murphy based on pandemic mask mandates and masks for kids in schools.”
The assemblyman said these issues drove voters.
“People don’t have the luxury of having memories,” he said. “Our messages as legislators could not cut through Joe Biden’s underwater approval ratings and Murphy’s marginal numbers, in combination with the absence of local journalism.”
Murphy lost Gloucester County by ten percentage points.
“This was people going right down the line and voting for Ciattarelli,” Burzichelli said. “We needed them to get back to Sweeney, but not having a county newspaper, for example, it’s tough to remind people of our work. It’s work quickly forgotten in the context of these other dynamics.”
The assemblyman said the property tax ad Ciatarelli ran using Murphy’s own words against him connected to people’s anger and frustration.
He made sure to note that he doesn’t discount the validity of people’s anger over many aspects of government in New Jersey. That said, if the state’s property tax crisis were “easy to fix, it would have been.”
Burzichelli said he felt the Republican wave rising about three and a half weeks before Election Day.
As for the future of South Jersey with Sweeney in the senate presidency, “We still have a sizeable delegation that understands what has to be done.
“But there is no replacing Steve Sweeney,” added Burzichelli. “Can others be effective? Yes. But there is only one Steve Sweeney.”
While noting the uninspired Democratic electorate, “In fairness to this governor, there a number of things he did that were important, including bail reform. As I think about it, he had the possibility of a simple message in this campaign, and while I don’t think it was completely expressed, he did get reelected, and he did succeed statewide in taking the discussion away from dysfunction in the nation’s capital. He was successful, while some of us were not so fortunate. We are collateral damage to a moment in time.”
Did he think the Murphy Campaign relied too heavily on a diet of party stars?
“Bringing in a former president [Barack Obama] is not a bad thing,” Burzichelli said. “Bernie Sanders coming in; did that change people’s minds about Phil Murphy? Probably not. It just reinforced people’s positions, pro and con.”
As Burzichelli considered his own career in Trenton, he said he felt privileged.
“It was the equivalent of grad school for someone who didn’t go to college,” the lawmaker said. “I felt over the years that I grew into it, in part with the benefit of speakers and colleagues. That part I will miss. I was very touched by the phone calls I received over the past couple of days from people on both sides of the aisle. These seats aren’t permanent, we know that, but I will truly miss the Statehouse and my colleagues. After 22 years in the legislature and no indictments, I hope I have done something that touched people in a positive way. I feel proud of work we did to make high school football playoff games more accessible to families. That was a big issue. Most people forgot that skirmish ever occurred.
“I don’t rule anything out,” Burzichelli added. “For the moment, we are in lame duck we have business to close out.”