Home>Campaigns>Sweeney inclined to pass on Senate return, possibly setting up bid by Burzichelli

Former Senate President Steve Sweeney. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Sweeney inclined to pass on Senate return, possibly setting up bid by Burzichelli

Fisher might leave cabinet post and seek his old Assembly seat, with Salem County non-profit head mentioned as his running mate

By David Wildstein, March 07 2023 4:18 pm

Former Senate President Steve Sweeney is leaning against a return to the New Jersey State Senate, with Democrats now focusing on former Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro) to take on State Sen. Edward Durr (R-Logan) in South Jersey’s 3rd legislative district, multiple South Jersey Democrats, all speaking on the condition of anonymity, have told the New Jersey Globe.

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Doug Fisher, a former assemblyman and Cumberland County freeholder who now lives in East Greenwich, has emerged as a possible Assembly candidate.  So has Dave Bailey, the CEO of Ranch Hope, a well-known non-profit based in Salem County.

But with the March 27 filing deadline fast approaching, key Sweeney allies caution against ruling Sweeney out completely.  Democratic powerbroker George Norcross wants Sweeney to run, thinking he has the best chance to flip the Senate seat; others are telling Sweeney that he has nothing to gain by returning to the Senate, suggesting that if he wants to follow through on his pledge to run for governor in 2025, then he should do just that.

Sweeney could still decide to run, but as he moves back and forth on a return to the Senate, the race remains up in the air.

Durr, a truck driver who had never held public office, ousted Sweeney two years ago in one of the greatest upsets in New Jersey political history.  Burzichelli, who had spent 20 years in the Assembly, was one of the casualties of that campaign after Republicans also flipped two Assembly seats.

Now Durr faces a primary challenge from Salem County Commissioner Mickey Ostrum in a contest that threatens to split the Republican Party.  Durr is running with Assemblywoman Bethanne McCarthy Patrick (R-Mannington), while Ostrum will run with Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer (R-Woolwich).

The 75-year-old Fisher ran with Sweeney and Burzichelli in 2001, when Sweeney narrowly unseated State Sen. Raymond Zane (R-Woodbury).  Zane spent 27 years in the Senate as a Democrat and switched parties after it became clear that South Jersey Democrats were about to drop him from their line and back Sweeney.  Two GOP assemblymen retired that year, and Burzichelli and Fisher won the open seats.

Burzichelli, 68, had been itching to go to the Senate if Sweeney had moved up in the past.  He chaired the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Bailey, 56, has followed in the footsteps of his father, Rev. David L. Bailey, who founded Ranch Hope to help troubled youth in 1962.

A former Bridgeton council president, Fisher resigned from the Assembly in 2009 when Gov. Jon Corzine confirmed his nomination as Secretary of Agriculture; it’s a complicated process where the State Board of Agriculture picks and the governor approves.

After Republican Chris Christie was elected governor in 2009, he wanted to dump Fisher and promised the job to Hal Wirths, then a Sussex County freeholder.  But Sweeney convinced Christie to keep his ex-running mate – that’s how Wirths wound up as Commissioner of Labor – and Fisher has now cobbled together a 15-year stint in the cabinets of three governors.

(New Jersey has had just seven agriculture secretaries since 1916, with Philp Alampi holding the post for 26 years, from 1956 to 1982, under four governors.)

Spread the news: