You can say whatever you want about Steve Sweeney, but one thing is for sure: he ain't stupid.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who started her political career as a hand-picked representative of the Essex County political machine built by Steve Adubato, established herself as a player in Trenton by shepherding a strong tenure reform across the line.
But it wasn't just her search for consensus that got it done. In the view of Senate President Steve Sweeney, who knows a thing or two about the backroom push-and-pull, it wouldn't have happened without David Tepper, the billionaire hedge fund manager and education reform advocate who pledged to protect legislators willing to defy the New Jersey Education Association.
"David was an enormous help," Sweeney (D-Gloucester) told The Auditor. "He was an equalizer. The way I look at it, there can be great benefits when you have someone with resources trying to do the right thing for the right reasons." [emphasis mine]
Now that's how you treat a guy who has promised to throw tons of money around! Doesn't matter that the NJEA signed off on the Ruiz bill. Doesn't matter that, on substance, the union got just about everything it wanted. Doesn't mater that the final bill is a far cry from what Tepper's group, B4K, has been pushing.
What does matter is that Tepper and B4K are willing to throw plenty of money at the South Jersey Democratic machine. Last election cycle, they backed Democrats Troy Singleton and Gabby Mosquera for the Legislature, both allied with Sweeney and George Norcross. Undoubtedly, Sweeney is looking forward to more money flowing from the Tepper tap.
I've certainly been critical of B4K, but I can also see the practical politics of Sweeney's stroking of Tepper; he is a potential source of campaign cash few could afford to ignore. I only hope Sweeney added the Obama campaign into his calculus. David Tepper is a big supporter of Mitt Romney. I can't imagine the national Democrats are too pleased to see the highest-ranking elected Democrat in New Jersey showering praise on one of the Mittster's bigger fundraisers.
And Tepper has supported other Republicans in statewide elections. Whether he becomes a consistent source of funds for the Norcross/Sweeney axis is an open question. But even I have to admit, it's worth a bit of praise to keep that door open.