TRENTON – The 2018 State Budget would come and go, the numbers crunched and finessed, polished and fudged, while the fragility of human ego would endure a gentle, sandpaper-like grating of coming ejections and replacements. The final ledger would require people to give up power, and in that highly mortal space, a feeling of dank doom pervaded the basement hallways.
To his political foes, Speaker Vincent Prieto was like General Armistead at the Battle of Gettysburg: he looked noble and unflinching at the outset of Pickett’s charge, and in the end would be carried off the field. Maybe Prieto won’t fall permanently today or tomorrow. He can parade around and wave his Confederate-issue saber on Horizon. But like Armistead, he’s mortally wounded, and destined for capture and a field hospital and removal rom the war.
A source in the annex hallway buttonholed InsiderNJ and complained that some of the stories too strongly linked Prieto’s political future and the Horizon bill, as if his ability to ride rough shod over the legislation presented by state Senator Joe Vitale (D-19) to the Budget Committee yesterday signified his ability to continue as speaker. The source had to all but restrain himself from passing a hand across his throat when InsiderNJ asked about Prieto’s future on the throne of the assembly.
“He’s toast,” was the reply.
It was a common pronouncement.
Even the back channels of Murphy World took pains to make the case that the Democratic nominee’s opposition to the Horizon raid didn’t necessarily mean Murphy was propping Prieto up on his horse for another tour of duty as speaker. It depended whom you asked. Prieto allies took Murphy’s anti-Horizon statement – made just before he boarded a plane for Israel to get as far as humanly possible from the mess in Trenton – as evidence of an alliance. “See,” a source insisted. “Phil loves Vinny.” But it really wasn’t true. We yield to Plato on the iconic fine points of Socrates and Alcibiades, but our experience with New Jersey politics leads us more toward the assertion that only in the Middle East could Murphy find the peace and repose he required to avoid becoming politically entangled.
The smart money was that Prieto could brandish a win on Horizon, or at least squeeze out a strong fortification from which to negotiate in this fast-ending budget cycle, particularly if Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) managed to get Vitale’s bill ramrodded through the senate as a whole. There was a difference of opinion there, too. Even as the budget committee – stacked with GN3 and Christie allies – passed the bill 11-1-1, a source in the budget hearing room dismissed the bill as DOA on the floor. But another source later objected, making the case that state Senator Linda Greenstein (D-14) and Senator Pat Diegnan (D-18), absent from the committee hearing yesterday – would cough up aye votes in a pinch.
State Senator Jen Beck (R-11) was the only no vote. She’s also the only person on that budget committee who’s in a real general election contest. The only other person who’s even remotely challenged, by virtue of living in a Republican district, one that he’s dominated for years, is state Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1), who abstained. Everyone else – Stack, Cunningham, Ruiz, Bucco, O’Toole, Thompson, Sarlo, etc – either got his or her hair slightly mussed already in a primary (Thompson), overkilled to prove countywide power in an overwhelmingly Democratic environment (Stack), is retiring (O’Toole), or has hit the snooze alarm on the entirety of 2017 (nearly everyone else).
But what about Greenstein? She’s in the 14th District – a battleground…
“Please,” a source told InsiderNJ. “The 14th was a battleground, pre Christie. Now it’s a Democratic stronghold. Linda can do whatever the hell she wants now. With impunity. Senator for life.”
And Middlesex wants the aye vote on the Vitale bill to help Sweeney, whose allies put the votes together to eject Prieto and make Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19) of Middlesex – speaker.
It seemed like overreach. Wasn’t Hamilton that town overloaded with Trump for President signs?
But the source had made his point. If Sweeney really needed the votes from the senate so he could head into budget negotiations with Prieto and Christie armed with the earthworks of real legislation affirmed, he would have them.
Prieto could live. He could prance. He could dance on the Horizon bill. But tin the end he wouldn’t make it to next year as speaker, his enemies seethed.
But live or die as speaker, Prieto perhaps had made his point, which is the point he made all along, which is that he refused to be a vassal of the south or of Christie. There were opposing viewpoints there, too. “Vinny can’t count,” was the most common and cruel refrain from his antagonists, and even some of this friends, who noted his common inability to buck the south in standoffs. But the speaker had his own take. “I made the assembly relevant again,” he kept saying over and over, as if his acquiescence to the view that if life is war, and politics merely a way to appear civilized while fighting it, he wouldn’t back down. He would, even in the midst of those throaty jeers of rejection in Sweeney world and from the deep reaches of the south and the politics of Hudson perhaps dooming him to bureaucratic parochialism in the end, prove the persistent existence nonetheless – of the male animal, fighting, even if that is all that is left, fighting, as if manhood was the glorious – or just the necessary – upside of political failure.