Sweeney: caught in the middle with Christie and Norcross

The idea of saving Atlantic City by establishing it as a Mecca for gambling may not have been a completely original idea when former Union City Mayor Bill Musto had it decades ago. But as a state legislator, Musto had the muscle to make it become a reality.

Flash forward 40 years, and saving Atlantic City has come again into focus as the once mighty casino industry falls on its face.

Nobody in their right mind is going to travel two and half hours one way to lose their shirts in Atlantic City casinos when they can travel slightly over an hour to closer places and lose their shirts there.

Saving Atlantic City isn’t really what Gov. Christopher Christie and State Senator President Stephen Sweeney are about – at least, not the gambling industry.

Both men are fully aware that as in the film “Atlantic City,” the old city is on its way out and gambling isn’t part of its future. Instead of knocking down historic old hotels, the city may soon see the wrecking ball knocking down casinos to pave the way for more upscale residential development.

The war over how to save Atlantic City between Sweeney and state Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto largely masks more profitable ambitions. Christie, Sweeney, and Sweeney’s boss, George Norcoss see Atlantic City as a golden opportunity, not for gambling, but for redevelopment – much in the same way Asbury Park is redeveloping as a summer resort for the wealthy, who can afford to buy waterfront condos.

Norcross is famous for his ability to scope out potential redevelopment markets, and Atlantic City is a new gold coast ripe for picking, provided nobody thinks they will abandon the casinos in favor of condo development.

“This is all about getting rich,” said one insider connected with Steven Fulop’s campaign for governor next year. “Nobody really wants to save the casinos.”

Sweeney, of course, is running for the Democratic nomination for governor against Fulop. But he has always been something of a front man for Norcross, who may be seen as the real power behind the scenes – if not quite Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, then a slightly less comic Falstaff.

Norcross tells Sweeney he can be governor, but in truth, Norcross would like somebody else – most likely U.S. Senator Cory Booker. But as in most Shakespearian comedies, characters get stuck in situations of their own making, and thus Norcross is stuck with Sweeney as his candidate  whether he really wants Sweeney or not.

Sweeney, known as something of a hothead, apparently came out swinging against the teachers’ and other unions, rekindling the rumor mill that Booker might take Sweeney’s place as the Norcross’s candidate of choice.

“Booker won’t go anywhere near that,” said one source close to Fulop. “The Sweeney remark was just Sweeney doing what Sweeney always does, going off after he’s had a confrontation, saying something stupid that he’ll regret later.”

This, the Fulop people, will further alienate state teachers into supporting Fulop.

While Phil Murphy, another wanna be governor, is sniffing around the edges of Newark looking for make inroads in Essex County, but Fulop organizers believe he is unlikely candidate to get union votes.

In a battle that is expected to be New Jersey’s version of the American Civil War with northern urban districts going against southern suburban and rural areas, Essex County is seen as a key battle ground county.

Fulop people believe he can win Newark and thus force Murphy, Sweeney, and whatever other candidates run in the primary to split the rest of the vote.

“Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is with us,” this source said. “Essex will be a wash. That means Sweeney will have to get his votes from somewhere else. And it won’t be the cities.”

Even if Sweeney, however, wins the endorsement of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and Union County state Sen. Ray Lesniak, strong leaders in both Union and Essex Counties, as Fulop people believe may happen, Fulop still has the edge statewide.

Was Fulop right about Christie?

Three years ago, post Hurricane Sandy, and just about the time of the legendary Bridgegate scandal (when close associates to Gov. Christie closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge as political payback to the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie’s reelection), Fulop believed he had also been slighted by Christie for similar reasons.

New emails coming out as a result of discovery in Bridgegate seem to support Christie’s belief that Fulop would endorse him.

Fulop believed that the city had been overlooked for state aid of various kinds, especially in relation to the Port Authority, because of his lack of endorsement. But the emails suggest that Christie did not feel confident of getting the endorsement.

More important, discovery appears to show that Christie may have known more about the Bridgegate events than he let on — at least, a text message from one of Christie’s aides accused the governor an “flat out lie.”

Deal-making continues for Hoboken seat to sewerage authority?

Political observers believe Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer will be elected again as long as she can count on Frank Raia to run a third ticket in any mayoral election to split the anti-Zimmer vote. The best part is that she doesn’t really have to give Raia anything in return. A deal supposedly made ahead of the 2013 election fell to pieces when the Zimmer-controlled council chose other people to fill Raia’s seat on the North Hudson Sewerage Authority. Zimmer, of course, cannot afford to give Raia the seat before the election next year, because then Raia would have no reason to front a third ticket to cut the anti-Zimmer vote.

With a Freeholder Anthony Romano and Ruben Ramos apparently looking to possibly challenge Zimmer, wealthy Raia remains the single obstacle neither can get around.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com