A centennial celebration for one of the must-attend political events on the calendar. Some 17,000 of New Jersey’s movers and shakers have descended upon Atlantic City for the 100th annual New jersey league of Municipalities convention. On the agenda for representatives of the state’s 565 municipalities: school funding, pension reform, affordable housing and funding to fix roads. Then there’s the political subtext. NJTV Correspondent David Cruz is there.
Cruz: We are with Senate President Steve Sweeney. I know we’re keeping you from one of your many events tonight. Thanks for taking the time out. What’s your day been like. What do you do at these things?
Sweeney: Actually you meet with people who have issues—mayors, council people, legislators—and you know you have conversations, you have meetings. You try try to figure out issues. There was a great meeting today with the League over taxation of hospitals. You know, that’s a big subject right now. We’re getting the mayor engaged in and the local elected officials with legislators together to try to start to figure this thing out.
Cruz: Are you able to get some work done? I know a lot of times I talk to legislators and they say you guys don’t really get a chance to hang out together much and here’s an opportunity for all of you to be in at least one city at the same time. Are you able to have talks, informal or otherwise, with some of your colleagues from the other side about big things like the Transportation Trust Fund, etc.
Sweeney: Absolutely. There’s been meetings this evening because it’s a social setting, but you have an opportunity to go to each others events and have conversations and actually try and create relationships so you can get things done here. You know, it’s critical that we focus on the common areas so that we can get something done in this state.
Cruz: Have you had any substantive conversations on some of these big issues that you want to share with us?
Sweeney: I just met with a legislator earlier before I came here over a situation in Norther New Jersey with a school that’s facing enormous problems. So you know, David, there’s a lot of conversations that we’ll have here, but it’s more importantly bringing issues to the forefront. Like we’re going to do a panel tomorrow probably in front of 300 mayors. Jon Bramnick, myself, Tom Kean and Vinny Prieto, and it’s their chance to question us and our chance to share our thoughts live.
Cruz: I caught that act a few weeks ago. It was pretty lively.
Sweeney: I love it. I love it. I think it’s healthy. I think it’s great that people can just off-the-cuff ask questions. We as the leadership in the legislature on both sides, have a responsibility to make an effort to answer the questions.
Cruz: You’ve been to a few of these now. How have things changed? Everybody keeps telling me it’s a little bit more laid back now than it use to be.
Sweeney: It is a lot more calmer than it use to be. For me, it’s a lot more business because when I was a young person, David, which was a long time ago. The work focus was not as great. I’ll be honest with you. It’s much more task orientated, work-focused, than it was 25 years ago.
Cruz: You’re having a couple of events today, everybody’s having parties, some of the people who are having parties are people who are running for governor. How much of that is involved in what you’re going to be doing socially here the next couple of days?
Sweeney: Very little. Very little, David.
Cruz: Come on, Senator.
Sweeney: David, I’m the Senate President. I know a lot of people. I don’t have to have a party to get people to know me or what to talk. I like people. I really like people, and I gravitate to having conversations, even when they’re good or bad, I don’t need a party to be thrown to be able to do that.
Cruz: Let me ask you one other topic not related to this, the governor said today that he would not allow any Syrian refugees, including children under five. If you were to be governor, even if you’re not, what’s your gut reaction to something like that?
Sweeney: It’s very sad to hear that comment, because, I’m going to quote governor Cuomo, becuase I think he had the best quote: when we shut down our borders, we’ll start dismantling the Statue of Liberty. This country is a great country because we accept people into this country. I understand the concerns, the safety concerns, but they can be dealt with and they can be managed. It was way over the top when the governor said even children under five. They’re children; refugee children. So look, I understand the national politics, the politics of what he’s trying to do nationally, but I don’t think anyone in this state, Republican or Democrat, agrees with that statement.