If Sweeney Wins, Will Kean and Codey Take Another Crack at Him Come Reorganization?
Earlier this month Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) told anyone within earshot that he felt a little better about occupying one half of the most expensive contest in the history of the New Jersey Legislature. A poll showed him up by 12 points over Republican factory worker Fran Grenier, and he considered it legit.
Sweeney felt so good that he mused publicly about shoveling some of the money he had saved in reserve if the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) decided to get even more nuts on him, into another battleground district.
“Don’t,” someone close to him advised. “Steve, that poll could be wrong.”
Maybe there was a point there, the senate prez acknowledged.
For if Sweeney received the embarrassment of his career when he audaciously summoned the votes to dethrone Dick Codey after having crawled across the LD3 finish line with a four point victory in 2007, finishing somewhere between that low watermark and the optimistic 12-point margin ascertained by the poll seemed more in the realm of possibility, party sources say.
And not all his doing, they insisted.
“It’s Murphy’s damn fault,” a source blew up on InsiderNJ when asked to access the senate president’s woe, deriding Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy’s campaign and the double barrel doozy it forced suburban battleground Democrats to digest: new taxes and sanctuary cities. But others were in no mood to place blame anywhere other than on the broad shoulders of the senate president, who got into his tango with the NJEA and couldn’t get out and now has hogged resources the party might have been able to use elsewhere.
“They moved too far to the right and ticked off the NJEA – that’s their issue,” a North Jersey source told InsiderNJ. “That’s on Steve. He’s got to live with that and stop crying about it.”
They trade insults: Sweeney by double digits or he limps back to the Statehouse wounded versus Murphy by double digits or he arrives in Trenton severely debilitated on day one.
If Murphy surprises and exceeds expectations with a double digit win and Sweeney limps past Grenier, will those who have chirped in Murphy’s ear renew their calls for him to “place his hand on the scale” and install an alternative to Sweeney on the senate throne. Or, if Sweeney crushes Grenier and Murphy crawls past Guadagno, can Sweeney’s allies tell the governor-elect to stand in the corner while the Statehouse veterans affix the legislative leaders to the chairs of power without his intervention?
These were the conversations two weeks from Election Day.
But if Sweeney won, would Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-21) be in position to take a run at him, with Senator Dick Codey (D-27) playing the part of David Friedland for the Democrats, that infamous assemblyman who rossed the aisle to back Kean’s father, Tom Kean., Sr., for speaker of the assembly sooner than empower those he dreaded in his own Democratic Party?
It would be difficult.
Sweeney had the appearance of real power at the Statehouse, which was all the more reason for the NJEA and Kean to take their shot at him in a general election, where Donald Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton in LD3 turned Kean’s head and reminded him of the Third’s enduring opportunity for the GOP.
Whatever the hazards for a Democrat, even one of Sweeney’s stature, in the vast open spaces of the Third District, he had the chamber on lockdown – or almost on lockdown.
It looked like this in terms of Senate support for Sweeney:
That’s 20. Now, it’s not a hard 20, but it’s close.
If Vin Gopal were to beat Senator Jen Beck in LD11, and that list above held, Sweeney could show a majority with both party caucuses engaged and claim victory. But that’s a big if.
If Gopal lost and Senator Colin Bell upset Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2), Sweeney could go there for his lifeline. Or find some transactional-minded Republican – or some kind-hearted good-government senator with a transactional boss – and peel him or her our of Kean’s caucus.
One could suppose that Codey, Senator Ron L. Rice, Senator Shirley Turner and Senator Nick Sacco would join forces with the GOP. That gets them to 18. Not enough. Maybe there are more. What if Murphy snatched Gordon out of the caucus to make him, say, head of the Department of Transportation, and Bergen Democrats installed a Lou Stellato-loyal replacement – Assemblyman Joe Lagana (D-38) – who joined the Codey Team?
Could Scutari be budged?
Where was Senator Nellie Pou, the senator from Passaic County who’s close to Passaic County Democratic Committee Chair John Currie?
Might someone else be there for the peeling?
Could such a move drive Kean-Codey past Sweeney, and would Murphy abide and endorse a Republican as senate president in order to break the South Jersey chokehold on Trenton power?
“He’d be a good governor,” Tom Kean, Sr. once told another Republican on the golf course – long before Murphy’s actual candidacy.
There’s a relationship there.
Enough to move the long languishing Kean upward to displace Sweeney?
It’s an unanswered question, but one kicked around in conversation, the precedent there with Kean Sr.’s own political history, as the days dwindled toward Nov. 7th Election Day, and Brendan Gill, campaign manager for Murphy, observing only the following whenever the subject came up: “We’re focused on one election at a time.”
A win is a win is a win. The margin of victory in LD 3 means nothing. As long as Sweeney wins by one vote he will remain the State Senate President.
Can you imagine what a horrible start to his being Governor it would be if Murphy declared war on South Jersey. Murphy is not a dummy. Kean/Codey alliance ? maybe 10 years ago that could have worked but not now.
The NJEA made their play and they are failing bigtime. Murphy decided to be neutral and did not speak up against the NJEA leaders backing a “trumpster” . He will have to live with that choice.
Sweeney will not let up in the next 14 days. He will run and spend money like he is down in the polls.
Elections have consequences and this one will be no different.
Sweeney should jump to the Republicans. But he enjoys being Boss Norcross’s puppet more.