NEWARK – State senator M. Teresa Ruiz’s (D-29) fundraiser last week gave insiders the opportunity to ponder aloud the possibility of a leadership shift up north for Essex, even though they know it won’t happen.
Essex right now essentially lives under the edict of South Jersey Democratic Leader George Norcross III, who pumped a ton of money into Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s 2002 election, when Joe d. defeated tom Giblin for the right to sit on a throne atop a billion dollars’ worth of patronage.
Essex’s relationship with South Jersey – and in particular DiVincenzo’s support through Ruiz- has helped keep Norcross’ regional ally, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) in power.
There are other pieces, of course – other players. Senator Paul Sarlo (D-34), Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), state senator Sandy Cunningham (D-31), and state senator Brian P. Stack (D-33) all remain stout enablers of Sweeney’s ability to sit atop the senate pillar of power.
But Ruiz is key, for a lot of reasons.
Coming out of her fundraiser, sources gurgled about buzz in the room about the possibility of her succeeding Sweeney, then just as quickly said it would never happen.
What about this scenario, InsiderNJ offered: in the event that U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) – under indictment for corruption and due for a fall trial – can’t continue – can Essex dangle the line in front of Norcross’ brother, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1) and withhold it until Norcross major loosens his teeth on the senate presidency?
One source said Norcross would prefer maintaining control of the senate presidency through Sweeney sooner than help promote his brother to the U.S. Senate, and so dismissed such a deal as folly. But a second Democratic source – but perhaps hoping too hard for Essex empowerment eight years after the South (with the cooperation of DiVincenzo) cast Senator Dick Codey (D-27) off the senate throne – underscored the temptation for Norcross to inject himself into a national bloodstream with his brother as senator.
Then a Ruiz senate presidency becomes possible.
But would the policy nerd who chairs the Senate Education Committee want the responsibility of herding the 40 fragile egos that occupy the legislature’s upper house?
One source close to the senator said she’d act like she wouldn’t want it, but would yield in the end for the good of the organization and Essex.
But given what appears to be the strong hold the South has on the Senate Presidency with Sweeney through its northern relationships – relationships that appear all but cemented, in addition tot he pull Middlesex has with likely Democratic nominee for Governor Phil Murphy as part of the deal to return Sweeney to the senate presidency, perhaps the more salient question is whether Essex can make a Ruiz a play for the U.S. Senate if Menendez crumble.