Perhaps George Norcross’ Chris Christie symbiosis made inevitable his faster than scheduled withering within the Democratic Party.
He was the last – or one of the last – bosses standing when Christie assumed the gubernatorial throne back in 2010. He threw in with the former U.S. Attorney, and plummeted with the Republican, albeit in slow motion, suffering eight years of demolition derby-style collisions that left his South Jersey-centric operation increasingly lumpy-looking, banged up and frazzled, before finally telling Politico that “it’s time for others to lead.”
The question, at least from the perspective of a deoxygenated but still standing operation down there (Norcross’ brother still serves as a congressman, after all; and Camden County still operates according to the dictates of lieutenants who spent their entire political careers running around in GN3 uniforms) is who will emerge as the next leader of the Norcross universe?
And this is a critical point –
Is that universe simply over, an ember of past political glory with a smoky resonance on par with someone like Hap Farley, Frank Hague or Auric Goldfinger?
and this is something to consider, too –
Is Norcross simply saying he’s done because that will enable him to work quietly while avoiding the intrusive (and in recent years, yes, unforgiving) spotlight that found his political movements, and avoid the accumulated humiliation of multiple ongoing mudslides that essentially reduced his South Jersey empire to Camden?
Certainly, too, an ongoing corruption probe may have finally simply neutralized him, the consequence of any number of backroom or backdoor prodding.
All that said, what does it mean for the career arc of Steve Sweeney, the Building Tradesman delivered all those years ago to the senate presidency in in part by Norcross in symbiotic lockstep with Christie’s ascent to the governorship?
One could make the case that Norcross’ evaporation – and agonal gasp in Politico – also finishes Sweeney.
“We had a great run…”
Christie, Norcross, and Sweeney all shared the same red and blue fixtured SCBA equipment in New Jersey, with George perhaps in charge of the biggest reserves. His demise, as it were, smothers Sweeney along with the rest of the organization he built with a long-since deposed Rob Andrews.
Is it indeed over for Sweeney, too?
For all his SUV tire-tearing energy up north ahead of 2025, the former senate prez after all still projects as a guy from the south, whose base caved in under a red wave (even as North Jersey strengthened its blue power credentials); and who subsequently got ejected from the Democrats’ redistricting commission on orders from Democratic State Party Chairman (and Essex County Democratic Party Chairman) LeRoy Jones, even as South Jersey Democrats absorbed concussive defeats. Dan Benson’s displacement of long-serving Mercer County executive Brian Hughes and a Norcross spat with sitting Senate President Nick Scutari represented the latest. The Norcross’ and Sweeney came up together in labor, and they will depart together, or so say those who believe they hear the unmistakable gong of time in Norcross’ going away speech.
As Sweeney continues to make the rounds up north in search of a seam line, he and rival Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop – at their worst – appear to be creaking Camelot-era (or at least 2017 era) combatants, who will appear very engaged in the lead-up to prime time jousting only to lose to a third candidate (perhaps Mikie Sherrill of Essex or Josh Gottheimer of Bergen), on a go-ahead declaration by Jones/Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe/and Bergen County Chairman Paul Juliano.
Sweeney still commands a larger than regional role by virtue of his lifelong leadership position within the Building Trades, a strong labor collective in this state, and the bedrock for 150K workers across multiple professional disciplines.
That organization, it can be argued, maintains a political edge, and Sweeney with it, by virtue of the respect he wields therein.
Consider the following observation made earlier this year by retiring Assemblyman Tom Giblin of Essex County, a former Democratic State Party chairman:.
“As he heads into the final months of his time in office, and on the heels of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) – an ironworker by trade – losing his reelection in 2021, Giblin underscored the foundational importance of labor in Democratic Party politics. “There’s no two ways about it, the Democratic Party’s success is attributed to 100% commitment of organized labor,” the assemblyman said.
Specifically addressing the gently unfolding 2025 gubernatorial contest, Giblin added, “The way it’s shaping up, I think people miss the candidacy of Steve Sweeney.
“If he comes in with concentrated organization behind him from labor, he will be a contender. You can’t underestimate his ability in government. He was senate president and a freeholder. He’s up in North Jersey a lot more than people realize through his trusteeship in the ironworkers. I think he’s networking and killing two birds with one stone. You can’t miss that experience.”
Given the fall-off from Democratic Party ranks of Building Trades rank and file, Sweeney might have a better chance of becoming governor as a Republican at this point, given the tough navigation route organizationally up north, Giblin’s argument notwithstanding.
Norcross probably won’t back away. So much more can be done in politics in stealth mode. Steve Adubato understood that and talked about it, and even more can occur from deep stealth positions.
But whatever it means, the Norcross interview with Politico, as long as he has the Building Trades, and they have them – and those connections extend intergenerationally – Sweeney has in hand the potential, as Giblin says, even if he no longer stands atop the ramparts, for one last political trumpet blast. On his own terms? To the extent that he always came from labor and that is who he is, yes.