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The New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton. (Photo: Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

Dispatches from a wild week in N.J. politics

By Joey Fox, January 28 2022 10:19 pm

The 2021 elections are over, the next major set of elections aren’t for four months, and the state legislature has only just started to rev up its 2022-23 session – and yet it’s still been an action-packed week in New Jersey politics. Here are this week’s most notable stories, from figurative political wars to literal political murders.

Crooked aide validates the worst Jersey stereotypes

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger announced that longtime Democratic legislative aide Sean Caddle has admitted to hiring two men to murder a former associate, Jersey City politico Michael Galdieri, in May 2014. The two men Caddle hired, Bomani Africa and George Bratsenis, stabbed Galdieri and set fire to his home in a case that went unsolved for years.

Caddle is currently cooperating with the FBI in an ongoing undercover operation, and has been free on home confinement since he confessed to the murder in September of last year.

To make an already shocking story even crazier, there may be a connection to the deaths of John and Joyce Sheridan, a longtime mystery in New Jersey. The couple, who were well-connected in state Republican circles, were found stabbed to death in their partially burned home in September 2014 – and Bratsenis was arrested with a knife only a day later. Mark Sheridan, one of the Sheridans’ sons, has asked acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck and Somerset County Prosecutor Michael Robertson to look into the case once again.

Sweeney loses the only position he ever really cared about

Former Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) lost his seat in the Senate last November, and with it his position as one of the most powerful legislative leaders in New Jersey history, but this week state Democratic Party chairman LeRoy Jones Jr. took one more thing from him: his spot on the Legislative Apportionment Commission.

Jones was reportedly worried that Sweeney, who was the commission’s lone South Jersey Democrat, would make a private deal with Republicans for his own gain. The concerns may not have been unfounded, given reports that two Sweeney-affiliated commissioners on the Congressional Redistricting Commission had tried to weaken Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair)’s district in order to make her less viable as a statewide candidate.

Sweeney’s ouster served as retribution for one man who has outlasted him in the Senate: State Sen. and former Gov. Richard Codey (D-Roseland). Back in 2010, shortly after Sweeney had beaten out Codey for the Senate presidency, Sweeney removed Codey’s pick for the Congressional Redistricting Commission, arguing that he should have a say in the commission’s composition.

Jones’ replacement for Sweeney, Pinelands Commission Chair Laura Matos, is the commission’s first Hispanic member. But Sweeney has already filed a lawsuit arguing that Jones never had the authority to take him off the commission in the first place.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project lives up to its name

Despite its name, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project is theoretically anti-gerrymandering – but a close look at the group’s role in the congressional redistricting process has thrown that into doubt.

The commission’s tiebreaker, former state Supreme Court justice John Wallace, used the Princeton group as his independent advisors as he consulted with Democratic and Republican redistricting commissioners last month. But the advisors, led by neuroscience professor Sam Wang, reportedly gave advice and inside information to Democrats that they didn’t give to Republicans, and have refused to share the data that led them to conclude the Democratic map was the better option.

Wallace listened to their advice, and the Democratic map is now law, pending an ongoing lawsuit from Republicans. Now, Wang and his crew will move on to advise Legislative Apportionment Commission tiebreaker Philip Carchman, who may want to keep an eye out for bias towards a certain party.

Kim gets new challenge from Ian Smith, Atilis gym owner

South Jersey gym owner Ian Smith, who rose to prominence for refusing to comply with Gov. Phil Murphy’s mandates early in the pandemic, launched his congressional campaign today against Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown).

Smith’s Atilis Gym in Bellmawr has been a flashpoint for controversy since the pandemic began; Smith faced nearly $1 million in legal fees for refusing to abide by mask mandates and business closures, and has started offering free gym memberships to anyone who refuses to get vaccinated. But his right-wing stances may not fly in the 3rd district, which was redrawn to be a firmly Democratic-leaning constituency.

The friend of my enemy is … my friend?

Former State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle), a close ally of party-switching Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis), joined the administration of President Joe Biden this week as the state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. 

In 2019, when he was in for the fight of his political life against Republican Michael Testa, Andrzejczak said he was open to voting for President Donald Trump the next year. Andrzejczak lost anyways, and his former running mate Van Drew defected to the Republican Party that December.

Quick hits

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), the strongest fundraiser in the New Jersey House delegation, raised $1.1 million last quarter, putting his overall warchest at a terrifying $12 million. Tom Kean, Jr., a Republican running against Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), has raised $1.15 million

As expected, the commission in charge of redrawing Atlantic County’s five county commission districts reached an impasse at its first meeting, and will now begin the process of searching for a fifth tiebreaking member.

With primary season ramping up, Passaic County Republicans became the first of the state’s 42 county parties to award their party line, giving it to Frank Pallotta in the 5th district, Billy Prempeh in the 9th congressional district, and Paul DeGroot in the 11th district

Gloucester County Commissioner Dan Christy, a Democrat, has resigned from his seat. Christy was up for re-election this fall, so whomever county Democrats choose to replace him will have to immediately run for a full term in the competitive county.

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