AFL-CIO endorsements aftermath: Dems against Dems; Amodeo takes a hit

The AFL-CIO’s rejection of labor leaders state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-5) and Assemblyman John Amodeo (R-2), and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), likely hit the Republican candidate the hardest of the four but also exposed a longtime and deepening rift within the Democratic Party and could create mischief within the legislative caucuses.  

The state’s biggest union organization yesterday denied the three union men and Oliver based on their aye votes in favor of public sector union health and pension benefits reform.  

Of the four, Amodeo takes the biggest hit during campaign season by virtue of being in the most competitive general election contest.   As for Sweeney and Oliver, already digruntled and divided caucuses in both houses receive one more invitation to agitation.  

“It continues to balkanize the caucuses,” a party source said of the fact that the two Democratic Party leaders failed to receive endorsements.   Amodeo admitted to being pained at not receiving the organization’s backing, but also stood by his vote on health and pension benefit reform.   “It’s hard knowing my base withheld an endorsement based on one vote,” said the 37-year veteran of the building and trades union.  

“I had a job to do,” added the pro-labor Republican. “My heart has always been about job creation. I still believe it was the right vote to preserve pensions. It is a little disappointing but I will still work for the working people of this state.”  

Running in one of the cycle’s most competitive districts, where state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-2) (also denied the AFL-CIO’s endorsement, as in 2007) is trying to fend off Amodeo’s running mate, Assemblyman Vincent Polistina (R-2), Amodeo said he will feel the absense of the AFL-CIO.  

“They were instrumental in both of my campaigns: hanging door knockers, giving financially and through their labor walks,” said the incumbent assemblyman. “But I feel I have campaigned every day I have had this job. I try to do the things that need to be done for this district. My campaign is the job I do.”  

Norcross said yesterday’s Trenton endorsement denial would not impact Sweeney in the caucus.   

He said the AFL-CIO’s lack of support would have zero impact, too, on the campaigns.   “All politics is local,” said Norcross. “We (himself, Norcross, Whelan, Sen. Jeff Van Drew, Sen. Fred Madden and Sen. Jim Beach, all South Jersey Democrats who voted for pension reform who did not get the AFL-CIO’s backing) got the unanimous backing across the board of the Southern AFL-CIO. We won the majority. If you ask anyone in South Jersey who does the work in our campaigns, it’s not the ones who were screaming.”   

A source within the public sector ranks of labor disagreed with Norcross that yesterday’s denial of Sweeney in particular would not impact the Senate Majority caucus. 

“It’s a slap in the face of South Jersey in the caucuses,” said the source. “It gives them a black eye.

“I watched Sweeney’s face for an hour,” the source added. “He was shocked when he lost.

“It’s interesting,” said the source, alert to division, “that when Sheila’s name came up, not one building and trades person stood up for her.”

Charles Wowkanech, president of the state AFL-CIO, said he read the vote results of the public sector members as symbolic.  

“What took place yeterday was a statement more than an action,” the labor leader told PolitickerNJ.com. “Steve and Don are great friends of mine. The bottom line is collective bargaining is very important. Without collective bargaining you don’t have unions. Still, the fact of the matter is a lot of delegates (not two thirds but a majority) thought they deserved to be endorsed. It’s a complicated issue. I’m glad it’s over. The worst is over.  

“The federation’s main focus is on keeping a Democratic Majority,” added Wowkanech. “The 38th is going to be key and so is the 14th. Even if the federation won’t participate, labor is still going to make a tremendous effort in the 1st and 2nd.” 

"It’s not a political environment that’s particularly warm for incumbents, but it looks like Booker has little to be worried about as the campaign season draws to a close."
—Krista Jenkins, poll director and professor of political science, FDU.