Codey v. Gill v. McKeon, the Talk, the Walk, the Waiting Game, and the Implications of Essex
Redistricted into an Essex County collision course with state Senator Dick Codey (D-27), state Senator Nia Gill (D-27) apparently won’t get the Democratic organization line, and appears unfazed. “Nia’s the casualty of the map, obviously,” a source groaned, even as Gill told The Montclair Local, “I’ve run on the line; I’ve run off the line. That never changes. I’ll do what I have to do.”
She’s not the only one in the 27th District with a history of fighting the power, but her 2012 anti-establishment run for congress hardly lived up to the expectations created by her 2003 insurrection.
So be it, she says.
She’s used to fighting.
That leaves incumbent Senator Codey (a former governor) presumably vying for the attention of Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones; along with Codey’s longtime slate mate, Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27). A third 27th District representative, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-27) has reemerged on the other side of redistricting in the 28th District, while Codey and McKeon now find themselves accompanied by Assemblyman Tom Giblin (formerly of the 34th).
Codey, 75,will have been in the legislature for 50 years at the end of his current term. McKeon, 63, will have been in the legislature for 20 years.
It’s a conflict, to paraphrase Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters.
Or is it?
Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones, who served as co-chair of the legislative redistricting commission, saw the opportunity to hit the eject button on Gill, who exercised senatorial courtesy to stall his choice for county prosecutor (not to mention the history of Gill beating Jones for the senate seat in 2003), and promote his own ally, Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-34) in a reconstituted 34th District.
Getting rid of Gill and promoting Timberlake gives Jones – a statewide power player who leads the Democratic state Committee in addition to the county party organization – a chance to beef up Essex.
Going back to 2002 and County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s countywide victory over Giblin, Essex has
lived in the shadow of South Jersey, exchanging its upper-hand of raw Democratic numbers for the backroom prowess of statewide pooh-bah George Norcross III. The power giveaway culminated in 2009 when Norcross helped his ally, Steve Sweeney, wrest the senate presidency away from Codey of Essex County. Jones in is role as Essex chairman, gradually jabbed away at South Jersey influence, denying Sweeney the Essex County line when Sweeney pursued a 2017 run for governor, condemning a Norcross General Majority PAC mailer in the middle of a battleground election, and then kicking Sweeney to the redistricting curb after resurgent red meat voters slung Sweeney out of office last year.
Signaling that he wants to work in Essex’s political interests by more than merely “Putting Camden County First,” amid signs of bulking up by other counties (Middlesex, for example; today, an Essex ally, tomorrow, who knows?), Jones wants to instill the kind of delegation discipline practiced by someone like Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman Kevin McCabe. Jones will be damned to put Essex in another weakened position with yet another region (yesterday, South Jersey, tomorrow Central Jersey) lacking Essex’s core claims of Democratic Party supremacy.
Hence, his play to bypass headache Gill with East Orange acolyte Timberlake.
“She’s fearless,” Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-34) said of the senator-in-waiting.
The daring move by Jones demonstrates his commitment to reinstalling Essex as not merely the
statewide voter turnout cash cow, but as a backroom bull in Trenton power politics.
Then there’s Codey.
Like Gill, he marches and has marched to his own drummer, which, mainly over the course of his wilderness period in the years after he held the senate presidency (2002-2010), meant routinely counterpunching the same Essex establishment that made Jones chairman.
For his part, Codey – no doubt delighted to observe Jones manhandling South Jersey – probably figures he could have saved Essex a lot of trouble by simply staying in power. He probably also figures he would rather run on the line for reelection with Jones’ support in 2023 rather than prove his off-the-line strength – and thereby finally save Essex some trouble.
That said, McKeon is supposedly angry.
One of the smartest, better prepared people serving in Trenton, the former West Orange mayor’s been in the assembly for 20 years.
He wants up.
That’s why he played Jack Ciattarelli in a mock debate to prepare 2021 reelection candidate Phil Murphy.
Well, maybe not the only reason. He’s a good Democrat, after all.
But McKeon knew there would be a vacancy at state attorney general if Murphy won another term, and he figured he would be in line for the job.
Murphy won reelection – with McKeon’s help.
But he didn’t get AG.
The job went to Murphy consigliere Matt Platkin.
Maybe on the other side of redistricting…
McKeon could find himself again in a district with Codey, who wants to run again??
It was almost more than he could bear.
Phones started ringing in Essex.
If Jones thought he could take a break after resolving apportionment, he found himself suddenly inundated.
Like Gill, Codey seemed relaxed.
Again, Gill ($21K in the bank) had run off the line before, and won (against Jones, no less); and when she ran for the senate presidency against Jones’ choice, eventual winner Nick Scutari – she didn’t show any signs of fearing the consequences.
She knew the price of cutting against the establishment.
So be it.
A lot of the people she opposed tiptoed during the Chris Christie years.
To hell with ’em.
Jones wanted to redistrict her out of political existence?
She’d make the bums work for it.
And Codey? He had his own tortured political story to tell (remember all the times Joe D. and his cronies
messed with him during the Christie years, using the cover of the Republican governor and the Norcross of cloak of party invincibility to make him suffer?). When people – vicious, low level Codey antagonists – started grumbling about all the time he had put in and why not give McKeon a chance, Dick, for the love of… Codey had to be sitting there thinking, after all the attempted political assassinations from within his own party, from within his own county, to hell with ’em all, they’re carrying me out with my boots on. Not even John can budge me from doing the right thing here, which is hunkering down in the saddle, until I’m good and God damned ready to ride into the sunset on my terms. They’re going to nudge me into oblivion? To hell with that, I’ll run off the line – I’ve got the name ID and money ($828K in the bank!) , and no one can outhustle me on the circuit, even now – and beat them.
Let them kick me off the line, I’ll win – and prove even now, after their South Jersey aspirations dried up and turned to dust, I’m bigger than them, too vindicated, and can survive, even as they talk about the party’s future needs.
Well, okay, but someone was going to have to walk the plank.
Jones wanted to rebuild the party, and he had Timberlake in part for that – but would he really allow three aging white Irish guys to occupy the ticket in LD27?
McKeon was half Italian.
No, it wasn’t even funny. It would embarrass Essex; after all that, to resurface with the LD27 version of Murphy-Sweeney-Coughlin.
Sweeney was also half Italian.
Someone would have to get nudged.
Could Jones deliver the bad news?
The hope was he wouldn’t have to, a source said.
The hope, the source said, was that McKeon (309K in the bank) and Codey would sit down. They were old friends. Twenty years cemented as slate mates was a long time. They could sit, and talk, and come to an agreement.
Livingston, Millburn, Roseland, West Orange, Montclair and Clifton.
They could find a way to attain harmony.
Codey had apparently worked hard to get McKeon the AG spot, precisely to head off the possibility of something like this happening, and McKeon had worked hard for the AG spot, precisely to avoid something like this happening.
That damned governor.
He was the real enemy.
They could rally around their shared anger at least, and injured ego, not to mention their shared history, and hash out an agreement, without Jones, in full-blown Essex Party reorganization rebuilding mode with an eye on promoting some new talent (Shawn Klein, Jimmy Spango, Brendan Gill, Sean Spiller, Al Anthony and others all lived in the district) for the future, lowering his thumb on the scale. Surely, the thumb of time would lower of its own accord.
It wasn’t like usual redistricting timelines, where party organizations had to hit go in the same season as reelection. COVID-19 had delayed 2021 reapportionment to 2022, which meant incumbents didn’t have to run until 2013.
They had 14 months.
“We’re part of conversations taking place,” said Montclair Democratic Committee Chairman Brendan Gill. “We’re excited about the new district. The township is a substantial portion of the new district.”
McKeon and Codey were presumably going to talk.
That was Jones’ hope.
The South Jersey version of the party usually featured a boss ringing someone up and giving orders in a profanity-filled tirade.
Jones wanted Codey and McKeon to work it out.
But could they?
Would McKeon, tired and angry, actually run against Codey, and could he secure Jones’ backing for the party line? Could Codey win off the line with Gill – presumably not in the running for Jones’ support – also running off the line?
While Jones awaited the results of those conversations between Codey and McKeon, Gill – as yet undiscovered the implications of Scutari beating her and time on the clock before 2023 – fired off a response to a question posed by InsiderNJ.
The question was this:
“Do you believe it is less advantageous to have the line on moral grounds as you seek to represent the public – and not machine – interests, or would you prefer to have it?”
And the answer was this:
It was, as they say, volatile.
- Al Anthony
- Brendan Gill
- Britnee Timberlake
- Chris Christie
- East Orange
- Essex County
- George Norcross
- Jack Ciattarelli
- Jimmy Spango
- Joe DiVincenzo
- John McKeon
- Leroy Jones
- Mila Jasey
- Nia Gill
- Nick Scutari
- Phil Murphy
- Ralph Caputo
- Richard Codey
- Sean Spiller
- Shawn Klein
- Steve Sweeney
- Tom Giblin
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