New Jersey’s longtime state Senate president, Democrat Steve Sweeney, lost reelection, falling to a Republican newcomer who spent less than $200 on the race and leaving his party reeling.
Edward Durr, a furniture company truck driver and political newcomer, defeated Sweeney in New Jersey’s 3rd Legislative District, according to results tallied Thursday.
Sweeney’s defeat was unexpected and threw his party’s legislative leadership contest into limbo on Wednesday when he postponed a meeting set for Thursday. Sweeney had been expected to return as Senate president, but who’ll take over and what margin Democrats will have in the state Legislature is unclear.
“It is stunning and shocking and I cannot figure it out,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said in an interview.
Sweeney has served as Senate president since 2010 and was responsible for shepherding Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s progressive agenda through the Legislature, including a phased-in $15 an hour minimum wage, paid sick leave and recreational marijuana legalization.
He is also known for his high-profile reversal on opposition to gay marriage. Sweeney said in 2011 that he made the “biggest mistake of my legislative career” when he voted against marriage equality.
Though Sweeney was a fellow Democrat, he fought Murphy at the start of his administration over raising income taxes on the wealthy and worked closely with Republican Chris Christie during his eight-year term in office ending in 2018.
For instance, Sweeney worked out a deal with Christie to overhaul the public worker pension in which workers gave up cost of living increases in exchange for regular state payments to the retirement fund.
The compact with Christie put Sweeney at odds with public sector unions, who would go on to become key supporters of Murphy.
Sweeney’s loss was cheered by progressive Democrats from southern New Jersey, who saw him as a product of transactional, machine politics.
“Today is glorious,” said Sue Altman, director of New Jersey Working Families, in a tweet. Altman is a longtime critic of Sweeney’s control over the party and saw him as focused on trying to maintain that control, particularly in southern New Jersey.
His allies say he was open-minded and who eventually delivered for the left.