I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Friday, June 24, 2011

Your Corrupt NJ Democratic Party

National bloggers are noticing the schism in the NJ Democratic party and the corruption of the Norcross/Adubato machines.

First, Steve Kornacki in Salon:

The thing to remember about South Jersey is that there's really only one name you need to know: George Norcross, an insurance executive and political boss who essentially runs the Democratic Party south of Interstate-195. Over the last two decades, Norcross has unified the county and local Democratic organizations in the region, mixing business and politics to transform them into lavishly funded machines. Norcross was instrumental in Sweeney's rise (he ousted a 28-year Republican incumbent to win his seat in 2001) and in the rise of just about every prominent Democrat from South Jersey.
A good friend of Donald Trump's, Norcross is not exactly an FDR Democrat, and neither are his protégés. He's not averse to cutting deals with Republicans. He had, by most accounts, a terrible relationship with Jon Corzine, Christie's gubernatorial predecessor, and his distaste for Corzine's Democratic predecessor -- Richard J. Codey -- is well-known in New Jersey. But he has a much better relationship with Christie. In fact, suspicions remain that Norcross and his operation went to sleep on Corzine in the 2009 election, producing underwhelming margins for the governor in key Democratic areas of South Jersey. Whether it's true or not, more than a few people in Christie's orbit believe this.
All six Democratic state senators from South Jersey -- including Norcross' bother, Donald -- voted "yes" on the pension and healthcare bill this week. Similar loyalty was evident among the region's Democratic Assembly delegation.
But Norcross' reach extends beyond South Jersey, to ... Essex County. Nine years ago, he threw his money and his muscle into a Democratic primary for county executive there. It was a bold move. Essex is a Democratic-rich county that typically produces the most votes in any statewide Democratic primary. And county politics is serious business, with all sorts of public contracts and patronage jobs on the line. By wading into the county executive's race, Norcross risked making powerful, permanent enemies in North Jersey.
But it was a calculated gamble; if he won, the payoff would be significant and long-lasting. And sure enough, he did, with his candidate -- Joseph DiVincenzo -- winning the primary and then (in a formality) the general election. Three terms later, DiVincenzo is still in office and the Norcross/Essex alliance is now the defining force in state politics. (It is widely believed that DiVincenzo's mentor -- a Newark boss named Steve Adubato Sr. -- went to sleep on Corzine in '09, just like Norcross.)
It was this alliance that elevated Sweeney to the Senate presidency two years ago, in a backroom deal that spilled onto the front pages at the height of the 2009 governor's race. As part of that arrangement, the Assembly speakership was handed to a member of the Essex delegation: Sheila Oliver, who has a second job (paying $83,000 per year) as a county administrator -- meaning that, essentially, she works for DiVincenzo. And, wouldn't you know it, Oliver and members of the Essex delegation provided the rest of the Democratic support for the pension and healthcare plan this week.
Kornacki points us to this from Jason Zingerle in New York:
“Christie’s managed to completely co-opt our party leadership,” says one Democratic legislator. How he’s done so is a matter of much theorizing in New Jersey political circles. One explanation is fairly prosaic: He’s simply engaged in the sort of transactional politics that have always defined Trenton, restoring nearly $17 million of proposed cuts to Essex County (thereby allowing DiVincenzo to avoid layoffs) and pledging $28 million in annual funds to a new medical school in Camden (the pet project of Norcross).
But a number of New Jersey Democrats take a more conspiratorial line. They mutter darkly—and circulate PowerPoint slides—about a state investigation into voter fraud in Essex County that, under Corzine, produced indictments against several members of Adubato and DiVincenzo’s political organization and appeared to be creeping closer to the two bosses themselves but that, since Christie became governor, seems to have ground to a halt. They speculate it was not a coincidence that Norcross was the biggest fish Christie failed to catch during his time as U.S. Attorney, noting that he didn’t prosecute the boss even after the state attorney general referred a case against him to the Feds. (At the time, Christie said the state had botched its investigation.)
Christie and his allies dismiss the allegations as unfounded—“I’m not going to dignify any of that with a response,” says his spokesperson Maria Comella—and the thinking does carry a hint of paranoia on the part of Democrats, who are still coming to grips with Christie’s success. Then again, this is New Jersey. When I asked one prominent Garden State Democrat what he thinks is going on, he answered, “I can go as deep into my own suspicions as you want.”
And Mother Jones's Andy Kroll weighs in: 
So what happened? After all, this is New Jersey we're talking about, where public-sector unions are traditionally a pillar of support for Dems in fundraising, get-out-the-vote, and at the ballot box. According to the New York Times, Christie was able to cobble together support for his bill, which he called a model for other state legislatures, by taking advantage of the Garden State's old-school, city-centric political system:
In his campaign to rein in the unions and shrink government, Mr. Christie has often been helped by New Jersey’s unique political culture, where local political machines still dominate some areas, and many state legislators also hold local government jobs. That gives striking influence in Trenton to mayors, county executives, and local party bosses who struggle with rising labor costs and have repeatedly sided with the governor’s push to cut benefits and wages.
There's another intriguing narrative here—namely, how the state Democratic Party function effectively after a handful of its members backed a bill hugely unpopular with the Democratic base. What we'll likely see, per the Newark Star-Ledger, is a growing schism among New Jersey Democrats:
Today's union protest, like other recent demonstrations, did nothing to stop the bill. But it did highlight the growing fissures in the state Democratic Party. While Sweeney and Oliver were pushing the bill, the chairman of the state party, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), was rallying protesters with two-dozen other Democrats. "I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," he said. Bob Master, a leader in the Communications Workers of America, said Democrats should not be "collaborating" with Christie.
Opponents of Christie's bill have a nickname for those Democratic "collaborators": Christie Democrats. That will be a damning label to hang around a Democrat's neck when re-election rolls around.


Anonymous said...

Or "Christie-Crats" ... Convenient that all of this unfolds after the primaries, so that voters will be disenfranchised by the "lesser than two evils" principle come Novemeber...re-elect your Christie-Crat incumbent, or elect someone far more conservative (or write-in, risking election of the conservative option by default). We need a very strong, coordinated labor-based campaign in November in order to undo that trap.

Teacher Mom said...

AGREED!! We need an organized effort to pick some strong candidates outside the machine who will be non-corrupt patrons of a true democratic system (one can dream). Needless to say we need a STRONG coordinated effort for a write-in campaign.

czarejs said...

The problem is that the unions are the ones that have the organization and money to advance this kind of campaign and there doesn't seem to be much leadership coming from them.