Politics in New Jersey has gone off the rails — even by New Jersey standards

June 23, 2024

New Jersey politics have a reputation for being wild. But this? This is something else.

Even by our standards, what’s going on in the Garden State these days is head-spinning. Earth-shattering, in fact.

A sitting U.S. senator, Robert Menendez, is on trial for alleged bribery, for the second time in seven years. In the midst of a bitter race to replace that senator, a judge blocked, at least for now, a primary ballot system that has empowered party machines and helped influence elections for decades. And now one of the most powerful non-elected officials in the state, George Norcross III, has been indicted on racketeering charges…

Norcross in the crosshairs
You may not know George Norcross, but his fingerprints are all over New Jersey.

While never holding public office, the wealthy insurance executive is a Democratic powerbroker and fundraiser who has helped bankroll and control a powerful South Jersey political bloc that has long held deep influence over policy and politics in the state. At his height, Norcross and then-state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a childhood friend, forged a mighty alliance with then-Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, that dominated government.

“You could not envision a day when Norcross wasn’t running the state essentially,” Julia Sass Rubin, a Rutgers University professor who studies New Jersey government, said of that period. “That he’s now under indictment, it’s stunning.”

Norcross suffered a big setback in 2021, when Republicans gained seven seats in the state Legislature, including five in South Jersey. Most notably, Sweeney, the Senate president, lost re-election in a massive upset to Republican truck driver Ed Durr, taking him out of power.

“The major sea change started when Sweeney lost his seat,” Rubin said. ”It didn’t stop that we’re a machine-controlled state, but it certainly impacted the power-control alignment.”

NJ.com, June 23, 2024

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