By choosing an indefatigably strong woman as his running mate, the Democratic nominee for Governor showed some alpha male capacity, which bodes well for the state. Former Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) is not a safe pick, but a bold pick, and in a contest where Murphy leads his Republican rival by 27 points, he didn’t have to go bold, but he did. We like it. If the furnaces of the international financial world defined Murphy, in Oliver he opted for a resolutely governmentally centered political partner.
Murphy’s campaign manager emerged this week as the candidate’s lone pillar of political persuasion, a delineation underscored by the fact that Murphy selected a running mate from Gill’s home county of Essex. A former state director for the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and a sitting Essex Freeholder and chairman of the Montclair Democratic Party, Gill has sharpened himself in this 2017 contest as a major strategic force in the Democratic Party and as number one Murphy’s trusted adviser.
Yes, Vinny Prieto, there is an after life after the speakership when South Jersey and whomever steps in their bear trap gets tired of the supposedly interchangeable human part otherwise known as that representative of whatever expendable county South Jersey props up at any given time. In the South Jersey playbook, the post-speakership Oliver was supposed to be doomed to ride a back bench for the rest of her political existence, like the gloomiest character in a Chekhov play. But the East Orange brand name resuscitated herself in Ras Baraka-Phil Murphy world, hanging around with dignity and finally now getting that legitimate statewide shot she was looking for when she took an unsuccessful stab at a senate seat in 2013.
No, it’s not senate president or speaker; and maybe those are the plays he should have made here, given Essex’s range and the enduring humiliation Northern counties sitting life defanged lions on stools as South Jersey cracks the whip year after year. Maybe it’s a humiliation unto itself that Oliver, discarded as speaker, should have to come back as LG, a position no one takes seriously. But again, refer to the write up under Murphy above. Oliver is a substantial person who will not lie fallow on the job.
Sources say the deal for LG isn’t tied to the Central Jersey County and Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19) for Speaker. Maybe. But with Sweeney already locked in as senate prez, the fact that Murphy went to a northern clime for his running mate leaves open the regional option for speaker in Central JErsey. That’s Coughlin.
It looked like Republican gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno was ready on Wednesday to tap the Woodcliff Mayor as his running mate. By all accounts a terrific guy and family man, Rendo appeared poised to acquit himself as honorably as the barbarian horde in the opening scene of Gladiator.
Congratulations are due to the Mercury partner (and former Senator Bob Menendez state director) whose wife this week had a baby girl.
So Prieto’s on his way out and Menendez is in a weakened condition, which gives Guadagno what she obviously believes is her best shot at creating a headline by parachuting into little disrespected Hague-world to try to boost the Hispanic vote with Rendo – like Christie, right? Didn’t he get a majority of Latinos in his 2013 reelection bid? Uh, yeah. That’s because Senator Brian Stack and Essex Executive Joe DiVincenzo endorsed him. Those machines – not dormant Tom Kean Republicans with vowels on the ends of their names – spiked Christie’s Latino totals. Hudson? Not happening Not this cycle. Maybe they plug the AG drain with a Suarez (Esther Suarez is a winner, sure) but in the meantime, Hudson’s as week as Essex was in 2013, when Prieto ran over the reeling Oliver.
They tried. Give ’em credit. They really tried. But in the end, 11K votes in a D Primary ain’t 30K, and Murphy had to go with what amounts to base country. Essex over the last number of years has been like the identity-crisis riddled hero in a western movie that gets drunk and refuses to go out there and demonstrate real power, and Murphy has ridden into town now with Gill to say something along the lines of, “Let’s get it together, Essex, you really can be great again. Lay off the booze. Stop getting bullied. I need you to get your big boy boots on and get out there again in that dusty street.” He doesn’t really need Passaic to be the hero in this western, but he needs Essex. So it’s Essex’s movie, not Passaic’s.
Everyone loves him. He’s going to be a clerk, the clerk of Passaic County. Maybe there’s something we don’t see here, like a Clifton person grabbing the vacated LD34 Assembly seat. But if the backroom war pitted Jones against Currie, Jones won this round. Of course, they’ll both deny there was ever a contest. But Jones wanted Oliver as LG and Currie stood loyally by Sumter, and Oliver won.
Look, as noted above, all is not lost. Prieto tomahawked Oliver, and now Oliver has risen from the political graveyard to prove that little known legislators who vault suddenly to the speakership need not moulder in obscurity for the duration of their careers. Sources say the deals don’t tie together. Fair enough. But if Middlesex Sheriff Millie Scott had come forward as LG, we’d be watching for a northern occupant on the speaker seesaw, either Prieto again or someone else, but the balancing act now appears to teeter against the Hudson County Democratic chairman.
The class act Assemblywoman from Paterson was gracious in losing the LG fight to Oliver. Sources say there may be a spot in the administration for the hospital administrator, who might become commissioner Health.
She was in the mix. But like Sumter, the 36th District assemblywoman came up short, losing to Oliver.
He and Oliver didn’t get along. That was not a secret. Just as he and Prieto turned into mortal political enemies, the sitting senate president seethed at the sight of Oliver. Now Murphy can make Sweeney dance by threatening to go nuclear and unleash Oliver into any administrative encounter. If the Democratic gubernatorial candidate really wants to give South Jersey fits, he can always double down by making Prieto chief of staff.
Public Sector Unions
Look, it’s complex, ok. InsiderNJ can remember sitting in a room and hearing George Norcross III publicly excoriate Oliver because she did not sufficiently advocate for charter schools, in the opinion of the South Jersey Democratic boss. So Oliver has an NJEA friendly card to play, amplified by her public opposition to Christie designs on the public school system in Newark and her 2014 endorsement of Ras Baraka for Mayor. But Oliver was not the public sector unions’ first choice.
“Stick,” as he’s known locally, suddenly has another opponent in the Hoboken mayoral contest, this one of a particularly imposing variety: state Senator Brian P. Stack.