As per usual, Save Jerseyans, I am going to be completely honest with you. New Jersey politics has been a bit boring lately. Do not get me wrong, there are some bright spots. I think the Rutgers Camden merger/takeover issue has been huge, and the internal struggles of the Bergen County GOP are pretty interesting to follow as well, but we have not had an explosive issue to get excited over as a state in a long time. Let me put it this way, when the media spends over a week covering Governor Christie calling Bill Brown an idiot, you know we are desperate for a good storyline.
Well it looks like we have it.
George Norcross III and Senator Frank Lautenberg are in the midst of a press release war over who is in fact worse for New Jersey taxpayers. Ever since this borderline hilarious exchange began earlier this week I have been able to rest easy knowing that I will be waking up to some snarky press release from either side making the same arguments Republicans have been making for years. This is the first time in a long time that the war of the North and South Jersey Democrats has been aired out in public, and the political nerd in me who seeks nothing but amusement from these people is loving every minute of it, and so should you.
Think about it, this story has everything. Greed, vengeance, threats, strange alliances, innuendo, and of course, name calling. It takes all of the insider-interesting subplots going on around the state and attaches itself to each one, culminating in a Democrat on Democrat verbal bloodbath. We have the makings of a mediocre political thriller unfolding before our eyes.
It started with Senator Lautenberg, who is clearly still unhappy with the South Jersey Democrats for helping Rob Andrews primary him in 2008. Of course, that was one of the most futile campaigns ever run by a Democrat out of the first congressional district, Frank won handily, but that is not the point.
The Norcross Machine seems poised to take another swipe at the elder Senator next time around. Senator Sweeney now has a federal PAC and is expected to make a run at Lautenberg in 2014. Being the puppet of Norcross that he is, its not hard to see why Lautenberg would go for the throat on Norcross now. Contrary to what people seem to be saying around the internet, this is more about the future than it is about the past.
Lautenberg saw an opening in the massively unpopular Rutgers Rowan merger plan being forced upon South Jersey by George Norcross, his cronies, and unfortunately by the Governor as well. What better way to court the angry masses in the southern kingdom than by a throwing the people a bone on a issue that literally dominates the headlines? The move was brilliant, and it actually had an impact. The US Department of Education is now going to be snooping around the merger plan, something that Norcross probably does not like at all.
Sweeney and company fired back almost immediately, followed up by a personal statement from George and then some comments from Christie. The one common thread in all these statements was that they completely dismissed the merits of Lautenberg’s arguments in his letter and instead attacked him for being the North Jersey focused Senator that he is.
At this point I tried not to let myself get too excited. These guys are all politically savvy enough to know that airing their intra-party dirty laundry in the open like this will only hurt them in the long run right? Wrong. It actually gets better!
So today the New Jersey Comptroller, Matthew Boxer, released a report on the Delaware River Port Authority which essentially said that the DRPA uses taxpayers and train riders are a personal ATM for higher-ups in the organization and their private vendors. According to the report, one such organization that benefitted directly from the DRPA’s corrupt management was Cooper Hospital. Lautenberg could not resist.
“. . . this is yet another example of how a corrupt political machine operates to enrich itself and local politicians at the expense of everyday people.”
Lautenberg said he will “continue to stand up for the residents of this region against endemic corruption, and I encourage other public officials to finally do the same.”
That is twice this week that the Senator has actually referred to South Jersey in any meaningful way. I would bet my weight in gold that you could not find two South Jersey focussed statements out of Lautenberg’s office in the same week ever before. Of course he does not really care about the DRPA, most people in his area only know about the other Port Authority riddled with financing issues. He just wanted to take another swipe at Norcorss.
Never one to just let things go, George followed up himself this time.
Sen. Lautenberg has been picking the pockets of no-bid, pay-to-play vendors at the DRPA and other public agencies throughout New Jersey for decades. Aside from the absurdity of his comments, it’s interesting to note that he never expressed these sentiments when he literally begged for South Jersey’s support in all of his campaigns for reelection. It’s the height of hypocrisy.
It’s appalling that the only time Sen. Lautenberg shows any interest at all in South Jersey is when he needs campaign money and votes. He has been missing-in-action on the critical issues affecting the citizens of this region.
Go ahead. Read it again, it really says what you think it says. George Norcross just suggested, no, declared that the DRPA hands out no-bid, pay-to-play contracts. He threw his own machine people under the bus in order to take a shot at Lautenberg.
There are so many places this could go now. With Senator Buono likely taking a crack at the Governor’s office in 2013, how much money and support is really going to flow from the Southern Machine if this war keeps up? Will Lautenberg’s state legislative allies in North Jersey stand in the way of Norcross’s coveted Rutgers takeover now that it likely has to go through the Legislature? If Sweeney does run against Lautenberg, how will that affect the struggle for caucus leadership in Trenton? The possibilities are literally endless.
I hope that they keep this going, Save Jerseyans. Open political feuds like this are usually reserved for popular HBO series. I for one cannot wait to wake up tomorrow and see what nasty statements hit my inbox to keep dragging this thing out. Some Democrats are surely cringing, but I am loving it. Politics is finally fun in New Jersey again, at least for the time being, and we have Frank and George to thank for it. Keep it up guys!