ATLANTIC CITY – If George Norcross III thrills to the James Bond villain-like high wire act of politics and power and a lifestyle replete with helicopter pads and private clubs, his congressman brother comes across as more of a humble labor guy made good, who expresses gratitude at his good fortune to be in Congress, and swats aside a question about U.S. Senate with a union brotherhood commitment to first fulfilling an apprenticeship.
As the U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) corruption trial unfolds in a Newark courtroom, insiders consider mapmaking possibilities for potential successors, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1) among them, mostly as a consequence of the potent political connection he has to GN3, the most muscled party boss in the state. But to hear the Congressman from Camden tell it, he has no designs on the senate seat, and expresses his hope that Menendez stares down the charges.
“This will work itself out,” Norcross told InsiderNJ in the Metropolitan in the Borgata Casino. “Bob has been a remarkable senator for the state of New Jersey. He gets down in the nuts and bolts and detail work, and is a great policy mind. I’d love to see him continue, and I think if he ran again he would be elected. I went to the other four year school. I’m an electrician and it’s called an apprenticeship. I plan on running for reelection [in 2018, not for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Menendez]. What I’m doing is I’m beyond what I ever imagined.”
First elected to Congress in November of 2014 after having served four years in the state senate, Norcross, 58, cut his professional teeth and sharpened his labor organizing skills as Assistant Business Manager of IBEW Local 351. “I ran the labor council for four counties and it was all about building infrastructure for working families,” he said, when asked to differentiate himself from a big brother who commands the family lion-share of statewide intrigue.
“That was important,” he said, referring to his work in labor. “It changed significantly from the time when I first took over, and during my time we got elected more officials from our rank and file than the entire state combined. My job was not as high profile [as George Norcross’] but I will submit to you it was damned important.”
Proud of his labor roots, a guy who wired Garden State Park after his lifelong friend and ironworker Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) put up the steel, Norcross still sees his talks as a freshman congressman aboard Air Force One with then-President Barack Obama as one of the highlights of his congressional service. Given some room to talk about issues, he unsurprisingly focuses on labor and minimum wage.
“Twenty-five to 30 years ago, the average line worker made 20 times less than the average CEO,” said the electrician turned congressman. “Now the CEO makes 347 times what the average line worker makes. All these people who say you’re going to kill the economy if you raise the minimum wage are not in step with the times.”
On the week that President Donald J. Trump made compromising overtures to the Democratic Party on DACA, Norcross told InsiderNJ he’s willing to work with Trump.
But he’s wary.
“It’s about the country,” he said. “The fact is once he came into office it became so toxic so quickly that any constructive pathway seemed almost impossible. The last week – maybe it’s changing. If he wants to raise the minimum wage as part of a deal, sure, but if he’s going to throw out critical agreements, I’m going to fight like hell.”
U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) lost his reelection bid last year to U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) because he refused to ever compromise, which is part of the business of politics, Norcross said. “Garrett was completely out of touch, and privately I heard from his own party that that’s the kind of thinking that doesn’t do anyone any good.”
At the Democratic State Committee-organized conference last Thursday and Friday, Norcross appeared to be the most consistently visible representative from South Jersey, giving at least a couple of speeches in the main ballroom and lingering to people from all around the state. As he fulfills the role of labor guy made good, and thunders against wage disparities in the country, he does so under the circus tent of a Democratic Party that is putting up a retired Goldman Sachs executive as its nominee for governor.
“It’s what you do, not what you are by name or where you work,” Norcross told InsiderNJ when asked about Phil Murphy, acknowledging the initial skepticism by party members who feared another Jon Corzine.
“Phil has proved that he’s a regular guy,” Norcross said of minimum wage raising advocate Murphy. “He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He worked for it. I see him as an honorable man, who’s pretty straightforward – not really a typical politician. What he’s doing – it’s working. Polls are not the election – we all painfully know that, but he’s connecting when he’s out there and that’s important . I’ve been thoroughly impressed.”