You would think that with the early agenda accomplishments Democrats have achieved – equal pay, paid sick leave, etc. – they’d be spending this time backslapping one another. But these are Democrats, and, as the Senate president admitted, they never pass up an opportunity for some good infighting.
“Hey look, Democrats fight like everyone else,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “We don’t do it in the back rooms; we do it out front.”
And this latest confrontation is no exception. A nonprofit advocacy group called New Direction New Jersey, led, in part by Brendan Gill, the Essex County freeholder and erstwhile Murphy campaign manager, is set to start airing ads touting the successes of the Murphy administration, success that has come with near unanimous support from the Democratically-controlled legislature.
“It’s offensive,” snapped Sweeney.
The Senate president is indignant because he thinks the ads are being used to publicly pressure Democrats to support Murphy’s $37 billion state budget.
“They want to take the easy path of trying to attack,” he said. “That’s a nice way of saying these guys aren’t doing their job.”
But Gill says Sweeney’s got it all wrong. This is not about them, he says, this is about the governor’s successful start. To prove his point, he released the script of the first ad, which will feature the governor.
“In Jersey, charting a new direction isn’t easy, but finally things are getting done,” it reads.”Let’s move New Jersey in a new direction,” it goes on.
No mention of the legislature, or Democrats or Sweeney.
“As we’ve said from the beginning, New Direction was established to support policies that promote a stronger and fairer New Jersey,” said a Gill statement, “And as one can see by reading this script, that is exactly what we are doing.”
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg says she hasn’t seen or read the ads, but, “Why would you be doing TV ads at this particular time?” she asked rhetorically. “You do that right after you get a budget. When you have a budget together is when you go out to explain to the public what your priorities are and how you arrived at them. Case of bad timing.”
The governor has stayed above this particular fray, but his relationship with Sweeney has made budget talks tough. Forget about tax hikes and spending cuts. They can’t even agree on their baseball metaphors.
“You get a budget done when the Senate, the Assembly and governor sit in a room and talk about real things,” said Sweeney. “We’re not in the sixth inning, we’re not. We might be in the second inning.”
Add to that, Sweeney’s sneaking suspicion that one of the funding sources for New Direction New Jersey is the NJEA, the teacher’s union that poured millions into the unsuccessful campaign to unseat Sweeney last year. The union had no comment today, and New Direction says it will gladly reveal its funders — at the end of the year, long after this first major battle between the Democratic governor and the Democratic legislature is over, but maybe right on time for the next one.