Part Sopranos, with a little Jersey housewives sprinkled in, politics in the Garden State is chaotic, unique and always filled drama. As the daughter of a life-long politician, I’ve had an up close and personal view.
I’ve seen my mother, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, trudge through many campaigns. Born with an amazing political acumen, she learned how to duck and weave through multiple political battles. My mom got involved in politics in the 1960s as a young housewife. She dragged my brother and I to campaign offices to stuff envelopes for Congressman Henry Helstoski who was one of the first people to speak out against the Vietnam war.
After we left home, mom was elected to the Town Council, then the State Assembly and has been a State Senator since 2005.
My Senator mother runs rings around tough adversaries. She took down a Democratic County Boss who thought he could stop her for running for State Senate and a popular Republican Governor who thought it was a good idea to close some lanes on a bridge. Since 2010, she has been the Senate Majority leader and by her side has been Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Calling Steve her greatest ally and her most difficult one, theirs has been a partnership of compromise, fighting, wrangling and ultimately working together to get things done – pay equity, earned sick leave and raising the minimum wage are just a few of the bills they have gotten over the finish line. Some were even passed with (gasp) bi-partisan support.
I remember watching my mom go head to head with Michael Doherty on Pay Equity. Senator Doherty is one of the most conservative Republicans in the NJ Senate. Several months later, he was the only Republican to vote with my mother and against his party to override a Chris Christie veto to get the Port Authority reform bill over the finish line. That would probably not happen with today’s GOP.
After a career dedicated to being a voice for the voiceless, my mother is retiring in a few short weeks. In a weird twist of Jersey political fate, Steve Sweeney is going with her…for now. He was defeated by new Trump BFF, Ed Durr. New Jersey is losing two of the most effective legislators the state has had. It is a bitter pill to swallow.
Senator Sweeney losing to Durr is no David and Goliath story and Durr is no hero. It was Steve, a fiscal conservative, who got the tax cap and pension reform done as New Jersey was sliding towards bankruptcy. He paid the price for doing the right thing when the NJEA, the state’s largest teachers union poured multiple millions into defeating Sweeney in 2018. Although Steve won that election, the damage was done. NJEA slammed Sweeney with constant negative attacks. These attacks probably helped Durr to win this time around.
Mr. Durr, who compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, tweeted out a barrage of racist troupes and downplayed the Jan 6th insurrection has been spending his time doing FOX News hits and NEWSMAX appearances. I hope he is also studying the New Jersey Constitution.
As Durr battles New Jersey’s high taxes (as he promised), he’ll have to stand against workers in public sector jobs, like police and firemen who retire with bigger pensions than their base wage, creating some of the largest tax liabilities. And then there are the municipalities In many Jersey towns, where services are duplicated and voters are resistant to consolidating them. Maybe even some in Mr. Durr’s own backyard.
Politics is complicated and the new Senator will learn how easy it is to criticize, but how difficult it is to actually govern.
After a recent debacle, a small group of Republican Assembly members refused to show a vaccine card or a negative Covid test when entering the state house. Mr. Durr accused Senate President Sweeney, who supported the policy, of lashing out because of their election results.
While the Coronavirus personally gave Durr a standing ovation, anyone who knows Senator Sweeney understands he would never lash out where the safety of his constituents is concerned. Sweeney, a former iron worker, just does the work. He isn’t into the theatrics.
Politics is a long game, not a knee jerk reaction. If Senator Durr is serious about governing, he’ll learn what it takes to get a bill over the finish line, that critical thinking skills are more important than crazy conspiracy theories and that deleting tweets don’t make them go away.
As both my mother and Steve know (neither of whom have ever had to delete a tweet) good government is worth the effort and doing the right thing worth the cost.
Francine Weinberg Graff is the daughter of retiring Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.