Steve Sweeney served 12 years as president of the state Senate. An ironworker by trade, Sweeney, in the eyes of many political observers, has never forgotten his working-class roots and has a well-deserved reputation for reaching across the aisle and getting things done—often, important things that have impacted people’s lives.
When the state’s longest-serving Senate president spoke in November after losing his seat in a stunning upset to Republican Trump loyalist Edward Durr Jr., a South Jersey truck driver who had never held elected office, Sweeney promised he would “be just as loud and just as forceful a voice for change.”
I recently talked with Sweeney in an in-depth interview for public television, and he made it clear that he is “not done,” as he plans to continue his work to make the state more affordable. Says Sweeney, “There is a lot to be done.”
During Sweeney’s tenure, he worked with other legislators in negotiating significant health care changes for New Jersey public school teachers in cooperation with the New Jersey Education Association—an organization Sweeney had a stormy history with in the past. He also worked on the restructuring of higher education, significantly increased minimum wage, and expanded paid family leave. Despite these efforts, Sweeney made it clear during our conversation that New Jersey continues to be too expensive.
After Sweeney’s upset loss to Durr, and Governor Phil Murphy’s unexpectedly close race against Republican Jack Ciattarelli, I asked Sweeney what the number one message from the 2021 election was. “We saved the nuclear plants, we captured offshore wind, we created jobs, we reduced retirement income taxes,” he says. “So the message is, ‘We want you to focus on making New Jersey more affordable. Stop with all these other plans. Let’s focus on what matters to people, and that is being able to live in their homes.’”
Part of the affordability issue in New Jersey is the increasing cost of quality, accessible childcare. Sweeney says, “We put $100 million into childcare in last year’s budget, and obviously we need a lot more. Parents can’t go to work if they have to stay home with their children.” (Visit Reimagine Child Care’s website to learn more about our childcare crisis.)
Sweeney also says New Jersey citizens are exhausted from Covid-19: “We have to learn to live with it. People are fed up, so we have to find a way to protect everyone and move forward.”
Regarding the increasing political polarization and the precarious state of our democracy, I asked Sweeney if the fact that his own Democratic party is constantly infighting is part of the problem. Says Sweeney: “Eighty percent of both parties are in the middle, but the far left and the far right are just very loud, and what happens is, there is a dirty word that I believe in, which is compromise. They don’t, and it’s winner takes all.” Simply put, Sweeney prefers getting things done to being a hardcore ideologue.
What’s next for Sweeney? “You get dealt setbacks in life, and this (loss) is just a setback. I am moving forward and have plans for the future.”
Count me as one of many political observers who believe that future involves a run for governor in 2025. Stay tuned…Click here to leave a comment