The World According to Cory: Democrats await a decision from the Mayor of Newark

With apologies to Galileo, it’s no newsflash that the NJ Democratic Party universe right now revolves around the thought processes of Newark Mayor Cory Booker, more elusive than his twitter feed, and yet still the intellectual property of the party’s best known prospect for a 2013 gubernatorial run.

It’s not like Booker’s behind the scenes moves don’t feed the story, either.

Council candidates who won their races in the equivalent of Democratic Party Siberia received phone calls in the aftermath of Election Day from a bright, youthful, familiar voice seemingly beamed in out of nowhere.

“Congratulations!”

It was Booker, showering local love, evidence to some that he’s going for governor now, a point of view just as quickly tamped down by others in the party who say, no, he’s always been like this, a meticulous, long-term organizer,  and his efforts could just as easily signal 2014 pangs.

The question is: what happens if Booker – holding to his mid December calendar – announces that he won’t run for governor?

“Oh, he’ll run,” a source insisted to PolitickerNJ.com, accepting the premise that Christie is running for re-election. “The National Party pressure will be too great for him to resist. The Bill Clintons of the world will start calling. They want Christie’s legs taken out from under him before 2016.”

If Christie will never be the robotic public figure that Romney is, Democrats nonetheless want to Romneyize him, the source added.

They want to limit him to one term in advance of the next president cycle.

“Booker will run, because he’s not afraid to lose,” another source added, convinced the mayor will throw in against Christie, even after Hurricane Sandy blew Christie and President Barack Obama into an alpha male bear hug.

But – again, though it’s hard to rip the idea away from certain Democratic sources – what if he doesn’t run?

There are at least two sources who say the party will have to look long and hard at Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), who’s never been bashful about nursing a statewide design.

Two years ago, in a diner, an insider told PolitickerNJ.com that Sweeney had told him he wants to be a U.S. senator, long since rehashed news ever since Sweeney opened a federal campaign account. The source told Sweeney if he wanted to be senator he needed to say he wants to be governor, and then accept senator.

But governor now might be all that’s available.

If Booker doesn’t run for guv, most assume it’s because he has a greater hankering for Frank Lautenberg’s U.S. Senate seat up in 2014.

The same sources say Booker would bigfoot Sweeney for U.S. Senate, a dynamic that has to put Sweeney at least in the vicinity of considering a run for governor if Booker doesn’t challenge Christie.

“This may be his only chance,” one of the sources said.

The arguments against Sweeney going against the sitting Republican governor are legion: they partnered on pen/ben and risks CWA ire if he puts himself out there; Christie’s already backslapping the building trades guys in Sweeney’s ironworkers’ hall; he can’t get through a primary if former Senate President Dick Codey (D-27) and the northern party chairs give their endorsement to someone else – a state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-18), for example; he doesn’t want to get into a bloody rematch with Buono, etc.

But, “He hasn’t made up his mind yet,” a source close to the Senate president told PolitickerNJ.com. “He’s still in that gray area. The Booker decision is what sets the dominoes in place. If he (Booker) runs, it’s unlikely any other Democrat will.”

At least one Northern Party Chairman told PolitickerNJ.com he received an invite to a dinner Sweeney’s hosting tomorrow in Atlantic City. Is it a sign that Sweeney wants to try to corral northern support for a statewide go or just the goodwill inherent to his current office?

The chair said he didn’t know.  

Regardless, Sweeney would need strong building trades backing and solid support from the party. In short, he would assuredly need some muscle up north to complement the support he would expect to have in his native South.

If indeed Codey has deep enough political relationships in Hudson, Passaic, Essex, Bergen and Middlesex to be able to negotiate, it is not completely crazy to consider Codey attempting to leverage a return to the Senate presidency as Sweeney’s successor in exchange for north state line support for a Sweeney gubernatorial run.

But it’s unlikely, because – as PolitickerNJ.com has documented exhaustively – Codey and South Jersey hate each other.

“No one from the south has come up to me to talk to me,” a Northern Party chairman told PolitickerNJ.com, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I think everyone’s waiting on Cory,” the source added.

"He’s obviously working very, very hard at it. I mean he’s traveling all over the country as chairman of the [Republican Governors Association] and I think at this point he has as good a chance or better than anybody else. His name is household word all across the country, and I think he would make a great president."
—former U.S. Rep. Jim Saxton (R-3), on Gov. Chris Christie