He ruled the Senate. Now he may be gone

TOM JOHNSON, ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT WRITER | NOVEMBER 4, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat

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Democrats appeared to hold onto control of the Legislature in Tuesday’s statewide elections but may have to steer that branch of government without its longest-serving Senate president, Steve Sweeney, who appears to have lost to a Republican challenger who has never held elected office.

With an unknown number of ballots still uncounted and a number of races still uncalled, Republicans made their best showing in years, picking up two seats in the Senate — although that was offset by the loss of another seat — and at least six in the Assembly. If so, that leaves Democrats retaining control of the Senate by a margin of 24-16 and of the Assembly by 46-34. But perhaps without Sweeney, who has led the Senate for the past 12 years.

With 100% of precincts reporting in the 3rd Legislative District, Sweeney trailed Republican Edward Durr by 2,229 votes, although an unknown number of mailed ballots remain to be counted.

“That would be the only path for him,’’ said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, referring to mailed ballots as Sweeney’s only prospect for overcoming his present deficit.

Durr’s shocking apparent win came despite spending only $153, according to his most recent campaign expenditure filing with the Election Law Enforcement Commission. Durr, a father of three, is a truck driver for a furniture company.

A resident of Gloucester City, Durr campaigned for lower property taxes, limited government and tax reform, according to his campaign website.

Ruler of the Senate

Sweeney, often referred to as the second-most powerful figure in state government, ruled the Senate ruthlessly during his term as president, winning passage of many hard-fought bills, including providing ratepayer subsidies to keep South Jersey’s three nuclear plants open.

“It is an amazing outcome,’’ said Patrick Murray, director of Monmouth University’s Polling Institute, referring to a Durr win, if it holds up. Murray noted that four years ago the powerful New Jersey Education Association spent more than $5 million to try to unseat Sweeney, and he ended up winning by one of his largest margins ever.

This year, Republican turnout in the 3rd District was enormous, Murray said. “We are still seeing seething over what they see as a stolen election,’’ he said referring to the 2020 presidential election, adding that GOP voters view the Democratic Party as having gone too far in pursuing a progressive agenda.

Other losses for Dems

Rasmussen agreed, noting some areas of Sweeney’s district have become more like other rural areas across the country in embracing former President Donald Trump’s policies. “When Democrats get too liberal and too bold, some of the suburbs may react to that,’’ he said.

The GOP swept Sweeney’s district, if his loss holds up. Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro lost to Republicans Beth Sawyer and Patrick McCarthy. In the neighboring 2nd District, the Republicans picked up two more seats, including the one held by Assemblyman John Armato, who appears to have lost to the GOP’s Don Guardian, former mayor of Atlantic City.

Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo seems to have lost the Senate seat in the district to Republican Vince Polistina.

However, Atlantic County, where the district is located has not yet posted counts for as many as 15,000 mail-in ballots received as of Tuesday, according to an NJ Spotlight News analysis of state data, and an unknown number of early in-person votes.

Senate Democrats gave up another seat when incumbent Dawn Addiego, first elected as a Republican but who switched to a Democratic registration in 2019, fell to Republican Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield of the GOP in the 8th District.

In the 11th District, Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Middlesex) was locked in a race with Republican opponent Lori Annetti that was too close to call on election night. As of Wednesday at 6:15 p.m., Gopal was leading by more than 1,000 votes with almost 99% of precincts reporting. The two Assembly Democratic incumbents Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling appear to have lost to Republicans Marilyn Piperno and Kimberly Euhner.

Senate Democrats appeared to pick up a seat in the 16th District, where Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker was leading former Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Pappas. The seat was held by former state Sen. Chris “Kip’’ Bateman, a Republican from Somerset County.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-11-04 03:24:32 -0700