By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Like Gov. Chris Christie’s monogrammed fleece, Steve Sweeney sported his personalized summer shirt as his guests arrived last night on the Battleship New Jersey.
With a big banner adorning the side of the ship, it felt like the kickoff of a campaign for governor, though it could also just be for re-election to the Senate.
But it has an outline of the state of New Jersey.
“I’m the Senate president. Michael, I’m the Senate president, as you know. There’s no announcements, no speeches tonight,” Sweeney said.
The ship was packed with Democrats.
Some heavy hitters got to say hello.
Some, like the Norcross brothers, are ready to declare their support.
Where is Congressman Donald Norcross on Sweeney for governor?
“Well, Steve and I grew up together, our families have been together for the past 40 years. I worked with him in the Senate. I think he’s about the best public official you can image. I think he’s uniquely qualified to be our next governor,” he said.
“I think Steve’s learned how to navigate very well the very many difficulties in the state and dealing with the big issues and he’s a problem-solver,” said George Norcross.
Others are hanging back for now.
“I haven’t given much thought to the governor’s race. I know there’s a lot of people positioned right now but I’m not even entertaining thoughts about it until we put Hillary in the White House and put a lot of New Jersey congresspeople into their seats,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
Since New Jersey always elects its governor the year after a presidential race, the tradition is that at the party conventions the year before a likely gubernatorial candidate throws a party or hosts a reception.
John Wisniewski is a possible candidate. When asked if he was throwing a party he responded: “I’m having a luncheon on Tuesday,” he said.
Where is he on running for governor?
“I’m thinking about it. Well, we have a presidential election. We have not only a presidential election, we have all of our federal candidates up this year in New Jersey. We have to get them elected,” he said.
Joe DiVincenzo has signaled he might run if Sweeney were to falter.
Is he holding a party this week?
“No I’m not holding a party. I’m going to be here for one reason: to support Hillary Clinton for president and then we’ll see what goes on after that,” he said.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg wasn’t holding back.
“I think this is an appropriate and wonderful venue and if he’s running for governor, I think that’s great,” she said.
Would she support him?
“I certainly would,” she said.
Sweeney’s chances for the Democratic nomination next year are as good as anyone’s, says pollster Patrick Murray.
“At the end of the day, the only people who really matter are probably the 10,000 Democratic activists and committee members in order to get the nomination beause they’re going to determine who gets the county lines and those will determine who, at the end, is the nominee, if somebody can get a majority of those county lines. So having these schmooze events helps press the flesh because people really are impressed when they meet somebody in person, they get to know someone personally,” Murray said.
There’s a feeling in some quarters — particularly South Jersey — that this is Sweeney’s time, that he’s learned the ropes as Senate president the last six and a half years and earned his chance. But there are also talented Democrats eyeing the same nomination.
One of them, Phil Murphy, sponsored this morning’s delegation breakfast featuring Ed Rendell and national NAACP president Cornell Brooks.
That organization doesn’t endorse, but Murphy sits on its board.
“Phil Murphy has been one of the leaders, particularly as a director of the NAACP board, who’s spoken up and for civil rights and that’s critically important, particularly now,” Brooks said.
“Oh yeah, I’m supporting Phil Murphy. Because I believe that Phil Murphy is a very sincere person and he has an urban solutions for urban issues,” said Newark Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield-Jenkins.
“I’ve met the Corzines, I’ve met them all — Florio, Jesse Jackson you name them. Kennedy, breath of fresh air, Phil Murphy, he’s a decent guy,” said former Newark Mayor Sharpe James.
So far, Murphy is the only one — Democrat or Republican — to have declared his candidacy.
“My only hope, Michael, because I’m the only declared candidate is that the election will be moved up to tomorrow,” Murphy said.
Murphy has money but so far little county organization support.
“Unlike some folks who go around telling how many counties they’ve locked up. I don’t do that, this is a long way to go. Listen we’re 10 weeks in. I think I’m right, Charlie [reporter], in saying 10 weeks in, 45 to go. So, I don’t want to for one second I don’t want to be associated with the arrogant. I’ve got X, Y and Z lined up, what about you?” Murphy said.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop is hosting tomorrow’s breakfast.
Sen. Ray Lesniak is another possible Democratic candidate.
And just when you thought you’d covered them all.
“I’ve had a remarkable number of people, Michael, come to me and say that I ought to consider it. It’s something that I will consider but I’m a big believer in first things first, let’s get through this cycle,” said Tom Byrne, former chair of the Democratic State Committee.
The June primary will be here before you know it.