Furthermore, Sweeney, an Ironworkers Union organizer, and his South Jersey allies have been forging strong alliances throughout the state.
It was Sweeney and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) who orchestrated the effort to hold onto Democratic majorities in both houses in the face of an expected Christie landslide and well-funded challenges by strong Republican candidates like former Sen. Peter Inverso (R-Mercer), Atlantic County Sheriff Frank Balles, and Dave Stahl, the Democrat-turned-Republican mayor of East Brunswick.
And it was South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross who raised money for the Fund for Jobs, Growth and Security that pumped millions of dollars to protect Democratic incumbents in the contested districts.
“Democratic fundraising in South Jersey has been reliable and consistent for years, and you can’t say that about most areas of the state,” Douglas noted, adding that the ability of South Jersey Democratic leaders to raise a large war chest would be a significant advantage for Sweeney and could discourage potential rivals. “We all saw how important money was in this campaign. Steve Sweeney was much more effective at getting on television than Buono, and she was the one running for governor.”
“South Jersey is clearly the power center of the Democratic Party today,” said Barnes.
It was Norcross who engineered the replacement of Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex), whose boss, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, has been tainted by his endorsement of Christie, an investigation by the Election Law Enforcement Commission into improper use of campaign funds, and his taking advantage of a loophole in the law to collect a full pension on top of his six-figure county salary.
Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) will be introduced today as Oliver’s successor, cementing Sweeney’s and Norcross’s ties with Hudson County. In Bergen County, Sweeney has a close working relationship with Weinberg, whom he selected two years ago to replace the rebellious Buono as Senate majority leader after she bucked him on his pension and health benefits bill, and with Sarlo, the influential Senate Budget Committee chairman.
Furthermore, he has the gratitude of Democrats who survived tight races Tuesday despite the Christie landslide and know that they won’t face a serious challenge again until after the next legislative redistricting round in 2021.
Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) thanked Sweeney at yesterday’s lunch, then when Sweeney brushed him off, Diegnan fixed him with a stare, grabbed his hand, and said, “All kidding aside, thank you. I wouldn’t be here without you.”
“He would make a great governor,” said Greenstein, who edged Inverso by just 1,200 votes in her fourth -- and toughest -- legislative victory in the past five years, but will not have to run again now until 2017.
As Senate president, Sweeney will have the biggest voice in deciding where to work with Christie on a bipartisan basis and where to draw the line, as he has done most notably in state Supreme Court confirmation battles.
It is Sweeney who will have the most important say in deciding whether the Democratic-controlled Legislature moves forward with enactment of a four-year phased-in property tax credit on state income taxes worth up to $1,000 that Christie wanted to enact prior to his keynote speech to the 2012 Republican National Convention and wants just as badly now.