Welcome to NJ Democrats’ Incipient Budget Repast: NJEDA vs. SDA (and the GOP)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney

The dysfunction in the Democratic Party should have Republicans laughing their asses off right now, but they are too busy trying to pick up what’s left of their ravaged club in the era of President Donald J. Trump, which leaves the Democrats to mud wrestle – both in public and behind the scenes – as the state nosedives.

This is what Democratic Party leadership in New Jersey looks like: Goldman Sachs alumnus Governor Phil Murphy fighting his own Chris Christie-affiliated party establishment, as part of a brutal continuing divide between public and private sector labor.

Angered by Murphy’s inability to prevent the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) from sparking the most expensive legislative contest in the history of America (not hyperbole, just a fact) to get him out of office (just last night, the senate president mentioned it), Sweeney -himself a Building Trades guy who has long lobbied for public pension and health reform – positioned himself as an early opponent of the governor.

Nearly a year ago, they nearly shut down the government before reaching a late budget agreement.

Now, as the state heads toward crunch time of another budget season and the governor again seeks a millionaire’s tax, Murphy’s allies have armed themselves with a story about how the state Economic Development Authority (EDA) under Governor Chris Christie allegedly improperly awarded tax credits to Camden County, the home base of the political organization that supports Sweeney. He appointed a task force to look into the allegation, which promptly convened – in part to take attention away from a select committee on investigation looking into questionable hires in the governor’s office – and in session gave the ominous appearance of The Parallax View.

Having apparently dried up (for the moment) the original hiring story, Sweeney and his allies, simultaneously, go into battle with the supplied headlines of a NorthJersey.com story about malfeasance and nepotism at the state Schools Development Authority (SDA). The head of the authority, Lizette Delgado-Polanco, happens to serve as vice chair of the Democratic State Committee that helped propel Murphy into the governor’s office and simultaneously denied Sweeney the throne of executive power. Prior to going to the SDA, Delgado-Polanco served as political director for the Carpenters, an organization mysteriously blown up in New Jersey when it became apparent that its leader, John Ballantyne, was getting too close to Murphy. Now – even as Sweeney calls for Delgado-Polanco to leave her position – there’s buzz about Ballantyne having to be offloaded to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority to make room for Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman Lou Stellato, who wants to go to the Sports and Exposition Authority.

The war extends into Essex County, where Brendan Gill, a freeholder who ran Murphy’s campaign, and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo stand in unsteady proximity: Gill as Murphy’s chief ally, and DiViincenzo as a staunch Sweeney guy.

They’re apparently trying, amid bubbling irritability.

But back to the SDA versus EDA.

It’s not a “big tent party” anymore.

It’s more like that scene in Munich where all the guns are drawn and the one guy on the team is screaming in the darkness, for identification purposes, “ETA! ETA!’

Only this time it’s the EDA.

And then there’s the SDA.

And they’re all Democrats in that dark room.

If the EDA story persists – and earlier this week the task force examining the authority notified the media that they have made a criminal referral to the state Attorney General’s Office – and peaks at the right time, that considerable portion of the Democratic Party that occupies the legislature and is beholden to the South Jersey Democratic Brain Trust – could (in an embarrassed pinch) swing toward the millionaire’s tax favored by Murphy. But if the SDA story peaks – if there’s more detonation packed into that initial humiliating piece – then that controlled and/or transactional part of the legislature will swing to the more politically sure-footed Sweeney and resist Murphy’s millionaire’s tax preference.

There’s more than faint buzz about the select committee shifting its full attention from the hiring of Al Alvarez to the hiring of Delgado-Polanco, even as the task force (“with real lawyers, not legislators on it,” a “source” brayed to InsiderNJ) continues to train its lasers on the Christie era of the EDA, all of it a mudslide versus mudslide race to wreak the most nauseating havoc just in time for the 11th hour of the budget.

There’s real progressive energy on the ground in some key parts of the state, but the Democratic Party, such as it is, either appears oblivious in its face, or intent on resistance.

Then there’s the GOP.

Christie – at 16% when he left office – was doing his best last week and this week to get Republicans back on the field, as was Tom Kean, Jr, in his own way, when last night he launched a kinder and gentler 2020 campaign for Congress in the 7th District, forgotten – or at least unmentioned – the fact that Trump will be a little more than just a nascent presence at the top of the ticket.

The Keans, according to InsiderNJ’s Fred Snowflack, didn’t mention Trump. That’s a word that won’t be uttered in the presence of that unsoiled and undespoiled effort, evidently.

Its most visible chairman, Ocean County’s George Gilmore, guilty on three counts, the GOP was going to war with itself elsewhere, in Bridgewater and Toms River, scenes of real party catharsis with county control implications presumably at stake, and – notably – in LD8, where South Jersey Democrats want another pair of themselves to add to the fun in Trenton come budget time.

But that will be next year.

 

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  • 1Prop

    Nice synopsis of NJ dysfunctional government and political apparatus. No leadership or courage to be found.

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