State Sen. Dawn Addiego will switch parties and become a Democrat, giving Senate President Steve Sweeney and South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross a major political victory.
The four-term senator from Burlington County brings the total number of South Jersey Democratic senators to seven and expands Sweeney’s lock on the Senate Democratic caucus.
“As gridlock in Washington dominates the news, it has become increasingly clear that in order to effect change you have to be part of the discussion and not on the outside looking in,” Addiego said in an a statement announcing her switch to the Democratic Party. “The people of the 8th district did not elect me to be content in the role of loyal opposition.”
Addiego said that her support for Sweeney’s agenda played a major role in her decision to switch parties.
“I have had the opportunity over the course of the last year to work closely with Senate President Sweeney on the Economic and Fiscal Policy Work Group,” Addiego said. “His tireless work ethic and unparalleled success at delivering for the people of New Jersey and particularly South Jersey is to be admired.”
The senator said that like Sweeney, she is “utterly convinced…that New Jersey’s current fiscal mess cannot be fixed by putting our heads in the sand and pretending it does not exist.”
“My core values that originally drew me to the Republican Party have not changed, but the party which once echoed the vision of Ronald Reagan no longer exists,” said Addiego. “Oil drilling off our coast and tax policy which unfairly penalizes New Jersey families are just a few examples of a National Republican Party that has lost its way.”
Democrats will now have a 26-14 majority in the Senate, giving Republicans the least number of seats since 1981.
Addiego’s change of parties also makes it even tougher for Gov. Phil Murphy to assemble a coalition of senators to oppose Sweeney, as he did in December on legislative redistricting.
The party switch was largely orchestrated by Norcross and lobbyist Jeffrey Michaels, a former chief of staff to Gov. Donald DiFrancesco.
Norcross and Addiego go way back: his father, labor leader George Norcross, was close friends with Addiego’s father; Norcross later developed his own friendship with the father of the senator.
Michaels and Addiego are also longtime friends.
Michaels was heavily involved in Burlington County politics in the 1990’s when he served as the top political advisor to DiFrancesco, then the Senate President and the counsel to the Senate President was Burlington County GOP chairman Glenn Paulsen. Michaels played a key role in Addiego’s first campaign as a candidate for Evesham Township Council in a May 1993 race.
Addiego is the Senate Deputy Minority Whip, one of seven members of the Senate Republican leadership team.
“I am looking forward to working with both parties, the Governor and all legislators to make New Jersey a better place for our families,” Addiego said.
The 56-year-old Addiego has served in public office for 25 years. She spent seven years as an Evesham councilwoman, eight years as a freeholder, and three years as an assemblywoman before winning the 8th district Senate seat in 2010.
Unless the boundaries of the district change after redistricting in 2021, the party switch probably enhances Addiego’s chances of surviving in one of the most politically competitive legislative districts in New Jersey right now. It includes parts of Atlantic and Camden counties.
The Burlington County Republican machine, one of the strongest GOP party organizations in the state for decades, was virtually wiped out in the last two elections. Control of the Board of Freeholders has gone from 5-0 Republican to 4-1 Democratic over the last thirteen months. Changing demographics make it improbable that Republicans will recapture control anytime soon.
Republicans almost lost the district in 2017, even though Democrats didn’t actively contest the seats. Addiego was re-elected in 2017 by just 2,637 votes, 52%-48%, against Democrat George Youngkin.
The 8th now has 6,694 more Democrats than Republicans. That’s up from 4,184 when the district lines were drawn in 2011. Murphy won the district with 52%, a 1,496-vote plurality.
Addiego had been one of six Sweeneycans – Republican state senators who enjoy an informal political alliance with the Senate President.