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Assemblyman Paul Moriarty. (Photo: Paul Moriarty).

Moriarty declines to comment on Scutari-Norcross feud

Fight puts assemblyman running for State Senate in sensitive position 

By Joey Fox, March 23 2023 4:25 pm

In order to win a competitive State Senate seat this November, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Washington) will want every bit of help he can get. Unfortunately for him, two of the main people he’ll need to rely on – Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Linden) and South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross – are currently locked in a bitter fight.

Asked today about the fight and about who he would support for Senate President if he won his Senate campaign, Moriarty declined to comment.

The origins of the Scutari-Norcross battle came several weeks ago, when Scutari wouldn’t pledge $2 million in support of Democratic Senate nominees in four competitive South Jersey districts: the 2nd, 3rd, 4th (where Moriarty is running), and 8th.

Particularly important to Norcross was funding in the 3rd district, which was held by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) until his shocking defeat in 2021. Sweeney, a close Norcross ally, decided against running for a rematch this year, though the lack of committed funds from Scutari was not a factor.

Even so, Norcross was outraged at Scutari’s supposed betrayal, and disparaged the Senate President in both a private phone call and in comments to the New Jersey Globe yesterday.

“You better believe it was outrageous that Little Nicky Scutari would refuse to support his mentor, Steve Sweeney, who supported him through good and bad times in the Senate,” Norcross said. “His word is meaningless. He’s completely untrustworthy.”

The immediate shockwave from the fight affected the Elections Transparency Act, a Scutari-backed bill overhauling New Jersey’s campaign finance laws. South Jersey Democratic senators briefly withdrew their support for the bill, though they eventually returned to the fold and allowed it to pass.

Longer term, though, the soured relationship between Scutari and Norcross could spill over into the contest for the Senate Presidency in the next legislative session. Norcross’ South Jersey Democratic delegation has been able to play kingmaker in some previous fights, though given recent Democratic losses in the area, Norcross may not be able to stop Scutari from retaining the top spot even if he tried.

Moriarty’s campaign to succeed retiring State Sen. Fred Madden (D-Washington), then, will have to strike a careful balance.

Though Moriarty has never been especially close with Norcross, he could become a part of a prospective Norcross-backed effort to take out Scutari. And if that battle does indeed happen, Scutari would be disincentivized from helping any South Jersey Democrats win Senate seats, since the greater their numbers, the greater the threat to his power.

Norcross and the South Jersey Democratic machine are flush enough that they could fund Moriarty’s Senate campaign by themselves. But as he fights to represent a redrawn, highly competitive district that voted for Jack Ciattarelli by five points, Moriarty won’t want to alienate Scutari and other statewide Democrats, either.

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