Saturday, July 08, 2006

State Budget - Ledger - Moran: Norcross casts dark shadow

Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, July 5, 2006


Norcross casts dark shadow on fiscal crisis

In his prime years during the McGreevey administration, the political boss George Norcross treated the Statehouse as his personal fiefdom.

He described the governor's suite as his "Trenton townhouse."

He shouted curses at the Senate co-president for all to hear, and even shoved him, according to reliable sources.

He threatened to shut down the state government if the Legislature didn't approve a subsidy for an arena in Pennsauken where his minor-league hockey team could play.

The Dark Lord of South Jersey wanted everyone to know that he was the muscle, and that he never backed down from a fight.

That's all changed now.

This year, Norcross has made himself nearly invisible.

No visits to his townhouse. No quotes in the press. No cursing and shoving.

The reason is that he is now a walking symbol of all that is wrong with New Jersey politics, thanks to secret recordings made during a corruption investigation that were released last year.

The tapes caught Norcross promising to castrate enemies, arranging phony jobs for friends, and giving government contracts to businesses that donated money, even if they were unqualified.

He bragged about the votes he controlled in the Legislature, saying politicians like Corzine would have to buckle under his power.

"They're all going to be with me," Norcross said. "Not that they like me, but because they have no choice."

After those tapes, most people were surprised to learn that their worst fantasies about how New Jersey politicians behave behind closed doors were actually true.

So you can understand why Norcross is laying low these days. Better to keep crazy Uncle George in the attic.

Still, the governor's office and leaders in the Senate believe they are dealing with Norcross in this showdown.

The opposition to the governor is led by South Jersey Democrats who rose to power in the Norcross machine, and continue to feed from it. He is the man who controls the money, and, as the tapes reveal, the jobs and contracts handed out by governments in South Jersey.

Mess with him, and you're cut off.

Today, Norcross is encouraging his troops to fight, even in the face of a government shutdown that will hurt a lot of regular people as it continues. This is just the kind of Rambo politics we heard on the tapes.

"I spoke to him Friday," says Sen. Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), the chief opponent of the governor's budget in the Senate. "His advice was to stick to what I believe in."

The governor sees the fingerprints, too, noting that most of the intense opposition to his budget comes from Norcross allies.

Sweeney has bucked Norcross on occasion, so it's a mistake to think of these guys as puppets on Norcross' string. It's not that simple. Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts describes Norcross as a close friend and former business partner with whom he's formed an alliance of equals.

"He played no role in devising any strategy I'm involved with," Roberts says.

Maybe so.

But if a member of the Assembly sides with Corzine on the budget and defects from the South Jersey team, he will have Norcross to deal with. And that venom can be deadly.

This is the real puzzle that Corzine has to solve to win agreement on a budget.

As Norcross said on the tapes -- it's not because they like him, it's because they need him.

The irony is that Corzine helped to nourish this monster. In 2001, shortly after taking his seat in the U.S. Senate, he gave nearly $1 million to a political action committee controlled by Norcross, the most money he's given anyone ever.

Corzine thought he was buying good will in South Jersey.

Maybe now it's time to ask for a refund.

Tom Moran's column appears Wednesdays and Fridays. He may be reached at or (973) 392-1823.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff and Clippings have no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of these articles nor are Plainfield Today, Plainfield Stuff or Clippings endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.