Volatility in Governor's Office sparks political questions in Essex

By PolitickerNJ Staff | January 18th, 2014

In the event of a statewide shakeup, the brutal political war between powerful Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and fellow Essex Democrat state Sen. Dick Codey (D-27) could come to a head in a special Democratic Party Primary.

The two men despise each other.

A former Senate president, Codey holds DiVincenzo responsible for cutting the deal with South Jersey Democrats which dethroned Codey in 2009.

While DiVincenzo embraced Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election and campaigned with him against Christie challenger Barbara Buono, Codey was a favorite object of ridicule by Christie allies and a prime 2013 election time target by the GOP, who unloaded negative mail on the former governor.

DiVincenzo is running for re-election this year and to date has no challengers.

At the very least, the legislative probe of Christie could cause the Codey wing of the Essex Democratic Party to rethink the inevitability of the county executive and organize a challenge against the backdrop of a scandal-hounded administration and wobbly governor.

But if Christie and Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno were to both go down in the scandal surrounding Bridgegate and new allegations made this morning by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) could find himself very suddenly in the same governor’s chair he has long coveted.

In the event of a special election, the ambitious Sweeney would look to harden establishment party support against that wing of the party identified with any number of Democrats thrown out of power in the Sweeney/Joe D era: Codey and former state Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) notably among them.

Sweeney’s most consistent North Jersey ally remains DiVincenzo.

If Codey tries to run for governor, he and an equally rejuvenated Buono – now a resident of Montclair - could end up on the same anti-establishment ticket in Essex, with the former governor challenging Sweeney and Buono squared up countywide against her old nemesis DiVincenzo.

Codey and Buono are likely not to be alone, however, in their willingness to give Sweeney and DiVincenzo competition.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop continues to position himself as the North Jersey alternative to Sweeney in a Democratic Primary; Zimmer today emerged as another player; and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) remains the legislative point-man on the Bridgegate investigation.

If DiVincenzo is unconvinced of Sweeney’s strength as a gubernatorial prospect in the face of a Codey advance, the county executive could have the all-North Jersey option of pivoting to Fulop.

Or if Codey chooses not to run for governor and DiVincenzo sticks with Sweeney, Codey and Fulop could forge their own team with the mayor pursuing governor and Codey recalibrating for a countywide contest.

Short of the antis coalescing, it could end up as a three-way contest, with Sweeney for governor and DiVincenzo for county executive on one ticket; Fulop for governor and Codey for county executive on a second; and Buono for governor and SEIU Leader Milly Silva for county executive on a third. 

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-10) are already locked in for DiVincenzo, giving the county executive insulation and making it next to impossible for someone to gain traction against the county executive. 

The question is whether the dynamics of a gubernatorial contest and turbulent politics would change their minds.

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