With Sweeney Bogged Down in the South, Sacco Argues for the North’s Right to Influence State Leadership

Veteran state Senator Nick Sacco (D-32) is not convinced that the legislative leadership battle is over, identifying a single figure as the game-changer in a Trenton firefight come the other side of the election.

“I was around when [Jim] McGreevey was governor, and I saw [Speaker] Joe Doria with a majority of the votes on Monday, lose on Wednesday when the governor weighed in. Can the governor change the entire landscape? Yes, he can. The question is will he.”

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy has stayed quiet on the issue of legislative leadership as he has campaigned for governor, as Sacco ally Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) continues to run for the leadership position he now occupies against a hungry-looking Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19) of Middlesex.

Middlesex cut a deal with South Jersey that includes dumping Prieto for Coughlin and maintaining support for Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) of South Jersey. But Sweeney appears drained by the effort of attempting to hold onto his seat, as he fights the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) in the most expensive race in New Jersey legislative history.

Sacco noted that North Jersey – Bergen, Essex, Passaic and Hudson – got behind Murphy early – earlier than anyone else, and cold-cocked Middlesex with its endorsement of the Nov. 7th Drumthwacket favorite. That early support should count for something, Sacco hinted, as his slate mate seeks reinstallation to the speakership.

“We have Bergen, Passaic and Hudson together, which is very powerful,” Sacco said. “A lot of other places up for grabs.”

Having backed Murphy for governor with the other northern chairs, Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones pivoted to South Jersey and Middlesex to secure leadership roles for Sweeney and Coughlin. But sources say his delegation remains split, with half still telling Prieto they’re with him.

“I think Vinny wins Essex,” said Sacco, “but it will depend on the strength of the governor.  

“We put him there,” he added, referring to the alliance of northern chairs, before taking a jab at Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe, who wants Coughlin to supplant Prieto as speaker. “Kevin sat back and then said, ‘look at me, I’m here.’”

Sacco spoke to InsiderNJ amid jittery observations expressed by numerous insiders over the condition of the Murphy Campaign, with Democratic Party sources in South Jersey dismissing consistent reports of Murphy beating Republican nominee Kim Guadagno with assessments of a single-digit contests, and condemning Murphy’s effort as death to the suburbs. Handfuls of them blamed Murphy and his campaign messaging for making matters harder for them. Sacco said he is confident Murphy will win convincingly in the end, while southern sources privately denounce Murphy’s efforts as a “northern-focused” campaign.

“It will tighten up, it’s not going to be a 20-pint victory, but Murphy wins,” said the Hudson County senator. “As the voters review the records, they’ll see a clear cut difference. Phil Murphy knows where all the problems are. Look, the state can’t be worse. Look at our credit rating, look at the lower level of aid to cities and to schools. No matter what she does, the lieutenant governor can’t disassociate herself from the current administration. If she kept her mouth shut, it was her fault. We have to say are we ready for a change? There’s no way can we keep going like this. How destroyed are we going to allow the urban areas to get?

“It will tighten up, sure, as it becomes a contest between Republicans versus Democrats, but in the end result, Phil Murphy will prevail,” Sacco added.

What that will mean when it comes to legislative leadership will be seen.

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