Grossman Campaign Ad Stirs Controversy Among Democrats Statewide, But It’s Not Why You Think


Sometimes North Jersey politics work their way into South Jersey. On occasion it goes the other way. Now it appears the Grossman campaign’s first TV ad is creating a little bit of controversy among Democrats.

Truth be told, it’s a good ad that ties Democratic congressional candidate state Senator Jeff Van Drew to Senate President Steve Sweeney. Years ago, I did a similar ad and mail campaign that referred to the “Sweeney-Corzine Trenton Tax Team.” I still remember Sweeney, then the Gloucester County Freeholder Director and state Senator, thanking me for giving him top billing. That conversation told me it bothered him at least a little bit, so I doubled down. The difference, at least according to Democrats I’ve talked to over the last several days, is that my ad and mail was in a campaign against Sweeney.

Fast forward to the Grossman ad. The grumbling in some circles within the Democratic party are that North Bergen Mayor, state Senator and Hudson County political boss Nick Sacco is somehow involved in this ad.

I blew this suggestion off the first time I heard it, the second time I listened a little, but I received a third call, so I listened, and there is a compelling argument, or at the very least a good conspiracy theory and definitely some controversy. That led me to make more phone calls.

For South Jerseyans who pay little attention to North Jersey politics you need to understand Sacco and Sweeney aren’t exactly best friends. The Jersey Journal’s Agustin “Augie” Torres put it into perspective in a column back in June. Torres wrote, in part (and misspelled Wainstein):

Oh yeah, and should the younger DeGise suffer a slaughter, the elder will still have to run - to continue depleting resources that may otherwise be used in the North Bergen May election against the incumbent administration.

Sources say money will not be a problem when it comes to the North Bergen election. South Jersey Democrats - read that as insurance guy George Norcross and Senate President Steve Sweeney -- so despise Sacco that you can expect to see a super Political Action Committee (PAC) pop up with $1 million available just to make certain there's a new mayor in North Bergen, say sources.

Larry Weinstein 's school board race went poorly but he still aspires to replace Sacco in Township Hall. You can't always translate school political success to a municipal race. In the last municipal election Weinstein received 5,000 votes. How much of an impact was that vote total? Ask yourself what would be Stack's reaction if he gave up 5,000 votes? It would be seismic.

In the present atmosphere it would not be difficult to come up with another 2,000 votes or more in anti-Sacco votes.

Of course, those of you who pay little attention to North Jersey politics need another piece of the puzzle. That piece of the puzzle is that the Grossman campaign’s ad was put together by political strategist and pollster Rick Shaftan. Shaftan is known for his work with Republicans, but he also happens to be North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco’s guy. Shaftan is Sacco's pollster, media buyer, and produces videos highlighting the North Bergen DPW's snow removal efforts.

It appears there are more than a few folks who travel in Democratic party circles who believe Sacco convinced Shaftan to mention Sweeney in the Grossman ad as a way to soften Sweeney up. The reason for this is many Democrats in Hudson County believe Sweeney is going to align with Larry Wainstein when he runs against Sacco (again) for Mayor of North Bergen in May.

Remember, I ran similar anti-Sweeney ads many years ago. I mention that again because I want to be clear I have no issue with the ad, no issue with Shaftan and I am a Grossman supporter. Again, I think it’s a good ad. With that said, the Sacco – Sweeney feud does add another dynamic to the scuttlebutt.

Adding a little more fuel to the fire is that more than one Hudson County Democrat has told me that Wainstein has offered to send ground troops into CD2 for Van Drew. Sacco’s opponent in the next mayoral campaign offering assistance to Van Drew does add to the controversy.

One source close to the Governor told me Phil Murphy is happy with the ad because he feels it hurts Sweeney.

The connections are enough to have created controversy among Democrats up and down the Turnpike. Controversy over an ad from a Republican congressional campaign.

The fact that a Hudson County nonpartisan mayoral race between two Democrats is spilling over into a South Jersey congressional race is just one of the things that makes New Jersey politics fun to watch.

And, because it is likely George Norcross and Sweeney are going to get behind Wainstein in the North Bergen mayoral race there is a South Jersey connection, so we’re going to keep our eyes on that race and this new controversy in CD2.