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Archive for the ‘Leadership Fight’ Category

It’s that time of the year again. The New Jersey Press Association presents the Legislative Correspondent’s Club annual show.

Basically, the state’s  ( now dwindling ) press corps performs a series of skits and songs that mock the political and media elite of the Garden State. It is often quite funny replete with costumes, wigs and other flamboyant accessories that would make even Elton John blush.

As for my role…well, I am El Presidente this year. That means I don’t actually have to sing ( which is not my strong suit ). I have to deliver the introductory speech which is supposed to be funny and slightly mean spirited. Well, I don’t know how funny it shall be, although I’m working on it. It will most certainly be biting, and of course familiar.

Then of course, after the show is over, people get to stand around and hang out in a cocktail party-type atmosphere which is even more fun. And the whole evening is off the record. So, if you are remotely interested, I urge you to purchase tickets. Proceeds go to charity.

Contact Peg Stephan 609-406-0600 ext. 14. or pastephan@njpa.org

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It’s kinda the final piece of the puzzle for the Democrats. Who will succeed Joe Cryan as Chairman of the Democratic State Committee in January. Cryan will likely have his hands full as Majority Leader and all signs point to someone new taking over what many have described as a “thankless job.”

There are a 113 seats on the committee although there are only 110 votes since there are some vacancies. Also, some members have only half votes ( don’t ask ).

We have already heard of two potential candidates – Assemblyman John Wisniewski from Middlesex who currently chairs Transportation and Assembywoman Nellie Pou from Paterson ( who is apparently not interested in primary-ing Senator John Girgenti despite threats from the left because he voted against gay marriage on Senate Judiciary December 7 ).

But here is a radical idea – will Codey make a bid for the Chairmanship? There are a lot reasons why this theory makes sense including the obvious one that Codey wouldn’t simply be slipping back into a 1 of 23 roll within the party’s Senate majority. He would be taking the reigns of an organization that helps call the shots for the party particularly during campaign season. And he will most certainly be playing an out-sized role in redrawing the map after the 2010 census.

But like with many things, it might come down to dollars. ( Remember HL Mencken’s famous line – “Anytime somebody tells you it’s not about the money…it’s about the money.” ) Both Pou and Wisniewski had Candidate Committees, fundraising arms, they established to run for Assembly. Pou hasn’t spent all of it, and the cash on hand in that account is said to be just south of $200,000 ( I don’t have an exact figure because a certain ELEC website has been down ). Wisniewski’s comparable committee had $360,304.68, according to the 20-day post election filing. The point however is not who has more between these two candidates. Because if they were to transfer those dollars to the DSC and give the organization a welcomed cash infusion they would be limited to $25,000 each. Those are the rules, folks…I don’t make ’em.

Codey on the other hand currently holds the keys to the Senate Democratic Majority Legislative Leadership PAC. And guess how much was in there as of October 15 ( the last filing )??? $967,869.51. That’s a lot-o-cash. And guess what the limit is on contributions to the DSC. You guessed it – NONE.

So, here it is. Codey could take over the DSC Chairmanship and transfer nearly a million over. As of Ocober 15 the DSC account had $373,882.54 and no doubt it was depleted further since the election was 18 days after that filing. So, the long and short of it is nearly a million bucks would make Codey a very attractive partner for the DSC. In other words, Codey would still be sought after and needed by people, including those who may have spurned him.

Will he do it???? Hard to say. But armed with all that, it might be hard for anyone to say no if he wants to.

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Let me set the scene. It’s day one of the lame duck session at the state house. Reporters have gathered in room 109 across from the Assembly Chamber for what we are told will be a 1:30 press conference with the new Democratic leaders of the Senate and Assembly.

But the leaders don’t walk in until after 3 pm. About two hours earlier the Assembly Dems sent word via email that Sheila Oliver had been chosen as Speaker by the caucus, and Joe Cryan had been elected Majority Leader. So, my wheels start turning…the cause of the hour and half dealay is in the Senate. I was told Codey had called Sweeney last week to concede the Senate Presidency, so it probably wasn’t that. Was it the selection of other committee chairs?

Well, turns out it was gay marriage. For weeks, I have been told that Democrats in the Senate have yet to discuss it as a group behind closed doors. Yesterday they did just that, and apparently it did not go smoothly. Some Dems would like to see the bill smothered, while others insist there should at least be a vote.

Meantime, Sean Kean’s office tells me he will not be voting for the bill which brings the number of Republicans willing to potentially support it down to two. There goes that bi-partisan cover that had been sought.

Meantime, Stephen Sweeney will assume the Senate Presidency, Barbara Buono becomes Majority Leader and Paul Sarlo will  Chair budget. Lou Greenwald stays on as Budget Chair on the Assembly side.

Congratulations to all the new leaders.

During the press conference I also asked if a decision had been made on DSC Chair, but that question was greeted with skeptical sideways  glances as I was told that it is not official government business and will be decided by the DSC. Fair enough, although I am quite certain The selection of the new chair played a role in the horse trading over who becomes what in the world of Democratic politics. harrumph indeed.

John Wisniewski who dropped his bid for Speaker after the powers that be coalesced around Oliver says he will be a candidate for DSC Chair. There is a report that Nellie Pou is also up for consideration. Wisniewski is clear to run now that Corzine is on the way out since the Governor reportedly “hated his guts” for not supporting the the toll increase plan.

One thing is clear, the guard is changing in the Dem party and they can probably use the new blood as a Republican Governor is poised to occupy the State House.

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There are 17 Republicans in the state senate, and it takes 21 votes to become Senate President. Republicans have said on the record that they will be voting unanimously as a bloc come January. But it’s what Repubs and insiders are willing to entertain privately that’s even more interesting.

Apparently, last week the Codey camp did reach out to Republican leader Tom Kean about a power sharing arrangement that would retain Codey as Prez. On the table were committee chairmanships ( not co-chairmanships but full chairs ) of about half the Senate’s committees. One insider said it would actually be more like a 60-40 split favoring the Dems.

Republicans are entertaining the offer. Of course they are…why wouldn’t they??!! But insiders say there is some resistance to getting into bed with Codey. Years of being in the minority under his reign have been tough and painful for the Repubs, and even left a bitter taste that some will not soon forget. There is even some distrust about whether Codey would uphold his end of the bargain.

That said, this is not about making friends. It’s about the Republicans doing what they can to ensure that some of their legislative priorities get addressed.

There is also some disagreement ( i know, shocker ) within the Republican party about how to proceed in this tricky environment. Some of the older guys ( who have memories of the way we were ) are angling to make a deal, even if it’s with Codey that would once again return them to the table. Some of the younger guys, particularly those who joined the club in 2007, are a bit more wary of making such a deal, but are certainly willing to entertain the possibility.

So, here is the really radical proposal. What if the Democrats can’t get it together. Meaning a handful of  Senators are unhappy enough at the chasm within their own party that they are willing to throw the chamber to a bi-partisan split. that means a consensus candidate could emerge along the lines of Tom Kean.

Obviously, this is not a likely scenario, but you have some very powerful forces within the Democratic party pulling people from both ends. Kean ( assuming he were ready to deal ) might look like a sane alternative. Remember…if the Repubs can deliver a unified 17 votes, that could be the difference. It’s possible that not even Sweeney could deliver that many.

So, could Kean step in and fill the void?? That would be something, wouldn’t it?

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I think the story of the next legislature will be south jersey.

In a series of rapidly moving developments, it appears as though a deal has been cut between the Essex delegation and the south jersey dems  ( also known as Adubato and Norcross, respectively ) to support Sheila Oliver for Speaker and Steve Sweeney for Senate Prez.

This satisfies the various factions within the Democratic party for several reasons. For one, Essex County plans to deliver up to 70,000 for Jon Corzine in November. That is by far the highest total of any county in the state. For weeks I had been hearing that a deal was being made for Cryan as Speaker and Sweeney as Senate Prez but sources in Essex had told me “no way.” They said that if Codey did not have the votes to remain Senate President then Essex would need the Speaker’s position. Apparently that held true in this deal.

Members of the Black Caucus are satisfied ( although officially, they don’t endorse ) because you would have the first African American female as Speaker. And that of course, brings me to south jersey.

the south jersey coalition is now 12 members including current elected officials and those expected to be elected in November. As a united front they are a force to be reckoned with. Not only was Joe Roberts one of their own…but now, like the Essex delegation, they too can demand one of the top spots ( in this case the Senate Presidency for Sweeney ) when leadership changes. That’s a pretty big deal. One could even say their power is at its zenith right now. And it will certainly be interesting to see how united they remain going forward. After all, more than one of them may seek the governorship or some other key position next time around. And let’s face it, they may call it south jersey but it ain’t all the same. It’s a pretty big geographic area. The terrain varies, as do the income levels and needs…so it may be tough to keep speaking with one voice.

But If the current leadership deal holds, here are some other expectations:

Cryan would come away with support as Majority Leader in the Assembly, with Barbara Buono stepping into Majority Leader on the Senate side. Sarlo ( who was passed over for the position once before ) would become Budget Committee Chairman.

Less certain is who would move in to Cryan’s current position of DSC Chair.

Of course Codey has vowed to fight, at least for now. He issued an ominous statement warning that leadership fights are “fluid.” But you gotta wonder how he feels about Teresa Ruiz from Essex included on the list of names supporting Sweeney. The word is that Nick Scutari got on board the Sweeney train against his will.

And of course we know that Ray Lesniak is always with the winner.

As a final note – The Sweeney press release listed a total of 14 names that are with him in the Senate ( 12 are needed to win ). 14, if you remember, was the number you heard here first three weeks ago.

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It would be foolish to deny at this point that sides are being drawn in the looming Senate leadership battle.

But after conversations with the Codey camp, there are a few more pieces of this that need to be pointed out.

To begin with, supposedly there was an agreement amongst the membership of the cordial club known as the state senate to retain current leadership for another two years. That might even be in writing, although I have not seen any document.

Codey takes issue with the notion that gaining a majority under his leadership can in any way be credited to George Norcross. After all, where did the money for those key races – specifically Whelan and Van Drew – come from? A Senate PAC controlled by Codey. Even though they were south jersey pickups.

Moreover, south jersey constitutes seven counties accounting for what Codey says is 22% of the state’s population and that’s simply not enough to dictate terms to the rest of the caucus.  Norcross has parlayed his power into getting key leadership positions but when it comes to statewide races, south jersey dems have consistently been reminded that the votes are where the population is and that is north j. One need only to look at the current governor’s race  and notice where the two candidates have been campaigning to reinforce that conclusion. Events are mostly scheduled in the heavily populated northern counties.

So where does that leave us? Well, it appears as though Senators Ray Lesniak and Barbara Buono are gonna be with Sweeney. And some have speculated that after Donald Norcross takes Joe Roberts’ old Assembly seat he’ll be moved into the Senate.

But here is the problem with that: Since 1995 the fifth district seat has been held by an African American. So, that could create problems within the black caucus and result in more votes for Codey.

We have now heard that Sacco is also with Codey and if Weinberg wins with the guv in November, Valerie Venieri Huttle is rumoured to be the person likely to take Weinberg’s Bergen County seat. Guess what? She is also likely with Codey.

Brian Stack is still reportedly up for grabs.

So, at the very least, this thing is far from over. Can a deal be struck that appeases all the factions within the Democratic party? maybe. But more than likely there will be some tussles first.

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Alliances rise and fall. Candidates go up and down. It all depends on how an individual plays his cards…and the often unpredictable whims of the electorate.

In this case we are talking about a political race, albeit on a much different scale.

Senate President Dick Codey wants to stay in power for at least another two years, and the word is that Steve Sweeney will challenge him.

But the key question is when? The Senate is unlikely to convene before November. Only Codey as Senate President has the power to call a leadership vote within the conference. Will he do that within a few weeks of coming back? Who knows, but my guess is probably not. Especially if his hold on power is tenuous.

In fact, it’s unusual  ( as Codey is eager to point out ) to even hold a leadership vote in a non-election year. The Senate is not up in 2009. So, it’s conceivable that Sweeney won’t even get a shot.

Now here is where this gets tricky…on the second Tuesday of January 2010, The Senate will reconstitute. At that point, the Senate is expected to vote for it’s President. Normally, the party not in control respects the will of the party that is in control. But if there was no leadership vote within the Democratic caucus what happens then? I certainly don’t know.

There had been some talk that Sweeney would try and win with Republican votes but he downplayed that suggestion this week. And Codey has said that such a move would not be good for the institution.

So, where does that leave us? I fear as though I have once again raised more questions without providing adequate answers.

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