Sweeney Romances Essex on his ‘Path to Progress’ Tour, then Codey Shows Up

As NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney visits Seaton Hall in Essex County, part of his ongoing town hall tour of NJ, political rival Senator Dick Codey of West Essex shows up to the event and makes civil comments.

SOUTH ORANGE – They have the alliance on paper but when it comes to corralling Essex, South Jersey seldom gets there. Steve Adubato tried to get Essex pulled together for Rob Andrews in 2008 but ended up only being able to deliver a portion of the coveted county.

Frank Lautenberg secured the line and ravaged Andrews statewide.

Then there was Steve Sweeney in 2017, the latest South Jersey brand name in search of Essex love.

It wouldn’t happen.

When John Currie of Passaic prevailed on Leroy Jones of Essex to stay with the so-called quad county alliance (Hudson, Essex, Passaic, and Bergen) and back Phil Murphy instead of Steve Sweeney, Sweeney surrendered.

But chafed.

Now, while Murphy worked a crowd of people in Passaic, playing defense for that part of his core political turf, Sweeney – still looking at a future statewide opening – played offense in Essex.

The millionaire’s tax hung between them.

“We want to have a conversation, not yet a yelling match,” said Sweeney, taking the stage as part of his continuing town hall tour of the state, a public check to rival Murphy, who again seeks a millionaire’s tax to fund his budget.

Sweeney’s skeptical.

“If the pension system goes broke, we will have to raise $8 billion just to pay pensions,” said the senate president. To the consternation of public sector labor (a key part of Murphy’s base), he wants one state healthcare plan – not two – so he can save rough $680 million, he explained.

Moments later, the man Sweeney displaced to sit on the senate throne, Senator Dick Codey (D-27) of West Essex, entered the room here in Bethany Hall in Seton Hall University.

There was a moment.

Hale, Sweeney and Oroho.

Already in mid-sentence, Sweeney de-fuzed it.

“I want to take a moment to recognize [Codey],” said the senate president.

He was sitting with emcee Seton Hall University Professor Matt Hale beside Senator Steve Oroho (R-24) in front of an audience numbering around 50.

“Oroho, you came all the way from the sticks for this?” Codey cracked.

Chuckles ensued.

Codey was an ally of Murphy at the start, but their good relations faded somewhat since 2017. “Dick didn’t like when Phil threw Petey under the bus,” a source told InsiderNJ, a reference to former Murphy Chief of Staff Pete Cammarano, who had been Codey’s chief of staff when Codey was acting governor.

When the sitting governor appeared in Essex after Codey refused to support Murphy’s marijuana legalization bill, Murphy rode him a little in the company of other lawmakers.

“Thanks for the support,” he said, or something along those lines.

Codey pushed back.

He was never going to support it.

His longtime ally, state Senator Ronald L Rice (D-28), doesn’t support it.

Rice likes decriminalizing pot, not legalizing it for recreational purposes.

But Codey’s also old school.

He squirms at the thought of basketball bleachers crammed with dead heads.

Still, Rice is ultimately more valuable to Codey politically than Murphy.

But Codey detests South Jersey.

If Murphy irritated him, or could irritate him occasionally, South Jersey represented a kind of cancer to the state’s health, such as it is.

On this occasion, Codey was placid when Sweeney asked him if he cared to make any public remarks.

“Welcome to the district and a great, great university,” said the 27th District senator.

A night after the Communications Workers of America (CWA) blistered him in South Jersey, Sweeney contextualized the history of pensions and benefits, noting how over the years some governors went along with not making their pension payments (“Not Governor Codey,” Sweeney soothed) and “some unions” went along with it.

The question now against the back drop of their mild wrestling match over northern county support with Jones poised to replace Currie as state party chair, is whether Murphy’s favorite story to deflate South Jersey (tax credits awarded to Camden by Chris Christie’s Economic Development Authority), outlasts South Jersey’s favorite story to deflate Murphy: the current leadership structure of the state Schools Development Authority (SDA).

It was a headline war with the end of June approaching, under the abiding sense of Sweeney-Codey civility at Seton Hall.

A self-described 40-year public worker rose at the end, denounced Sweeney, and demanded that the institute here at Seton Hall give equal time to an opposing forum “so the students here can hear the entire story.”

This was the CWA scene at Sweeney’s Gloucester event last night, not repeated tonight at Seton Hall, which was sedate.
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