Home>Campaigns>Norcross slams Scutari over refusal to commit $500k to Sweeney Senate bid

George E. Norcross III. (Photo: Cooper Foundation).

Norcross slams Scutari over refusal to commit $500k to Sweeney Senate bid

Senate President ‘completely untustworthy,’ Norcross says

By David Wildstein, March 22 2023 4:02 pm

A fight between Senate President Nicholas Scutari and South Jersey Democrats intensified over the last week, with Democratic powerbroker George E. Norcross III calling Scutari “untrustworthy” over his refusal to guarantee to fund for a possible bid by Steve Sweeney to reclaim his old Senate seat.

The dispute began several weeks ago when Sweeney asked Scutari to pledge $500,000 if he challenged Republican State Sen. Ed Durr, according to multiple sources familiar with the request.  Scutari agreed to back Sweeney but refused to commit to a specific dollar amount.

That angered Norcross, who was already enraged by Scutari’s five-month rope-a-dope over a request that he host a fundraiser for South Jersey Democratic legislative candidates.   The senate president had hosted one last year.

“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 told the New Jersey Globe today.  “His word is meaningless.  He’s completely untrustworthy.”

Norcross thinks Scutari ought to have been more helpful to Sweeney, a longtime ally and friend, and more interested in flipping the 3rd district Senate seat Durr won by two points in a district Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy lost by sixteen points.

“Sweeney supported him during his criminal investigations and other civil investigations into his private law practice — supported him when he forced changes in auto insurance to benefit his ambulance chasing practice,” Norcross said.

Norcross is also salted over Scutari’s failure to recall that it was Sweeney and South Jersey Democrats, along with State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen), who quickly propelled him into the senate presidency in the days following the 2021 election.

“I’m sorry he feels that way,” Scutari said.

In a heated conversation last week, Norcross told off Scutari for betraying Sweeney and the rest of the South Jersey Senate delegation.

South Jersey is a crucial battleground in the upcoming mid-term legislative elections.  Democrats in the region, who lost four Senate seats in the last six years,  want to recoup their losses in the 2nd, 3rd, and 8th districts this year.  They must also play defense in the open 4th district Senate race, where 20-year incumbent Fred Madden (D-Washington Township) is retiring.

Sweeney ultimately decided not to run, although sources close to Sweeney said the $500k from Scutari’s Senate Democratic leadership PAC was not a factor.  Sweeney’s 2017 re-election bid remains the most costly legislative campaign in U.S. history.

The argument was a backdrop to negotiations over Scutari’s Election Transparency Act, which the Senate approved on Monday.

Scutari, according to people familiar with the legislation, had initially rejected a push by Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald to have the state pick up the cost of postage for returned vote-by-mail ballots so that economically disadvantaged voters would not have to pay a sort of poll tax to return their VBM ballots.

This is expected to become part of the Assembly bill next week.

POLITICO first reported the turbulent call between Norcross and Scutari.

Norcross, a powerful force in state politics since the 1980s, has not hesitated to vociferously defend his allies, especially Sweeney, one of his oldest friends.

In 1988, Gov. Thomas Kean nominated Norcross’ father, former South Jersey AFL-CIO President George Norcross, to a seat on the State Racing Commission.  He withdrew after State Sen. Lee Laskin (R-Cherry Hill) used senatorial courtesy to block his confirmation by the Senate.

Three years later, after his son had become the Camden County Democratic Chairman, the family got their revenge against Laskin.

Voter anger towards Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase made 1991 the most lopsided Republican landslide since 1920 when Warren Harding’s coattails led Assembly Republicans to capture 39 of 40 seats in the lower house.

Republicans picked up ten Senate seats, winning in some unlikely places, and won control of the Camden County Board of Freeholders.

But the results became an outlier in the suburban 6th district where Laskin was seeking re-election to a fifth term.

Democrats spent nearly $2 million on the race – a record-setting amount for a State Senate race in those days.  Norcross personally guaranteed a $250,000 loan for the effort.

Laskin was savaged by Philadelphia network TV ads that attacked his ethics.  The ads ran during an Eagles game on Monday Night Football and Game 7 of the World Series.

Democrat John Adler beat Laskin by 6,098 votes, 55%-45%.

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