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Sweeney on redistricting ouster: 'I’ve been a loyal Democrat'

Former Senate President Steve Sweeney said Thursday he’s “considering all of our options” on how to challenge his ouster from the commission that redraws state legislative districts by Democratic State Chair LeRoy Jones.

“I guess that will be seen. I don’t know why they picked this fight. I don’t know what I did to deserve the treatment that they’re giving me,” Sweeney, who served as senate president for 12 years before his shocking election loss in November.

“I’ve been a loyal Democrat. So this is not the way you treat people that served the party, and I think I served it well.”

Sweeney continued that, People forgot I stopped [former Republican Gov. Chris] Christie from packing the Supreme Court. I think I stood very strong for Democratic values. It’s uncalled for, unjustified and unfair.”

Background: Jones is the chair of the state legislative redistricting commission, formally known as the Apportionment Commission.

His ouster of Sweeney sent shockwaves through the New Jersey political community and signaled Democrats from north of Interstate 195 were intent on further weakening their previously-dominant South Jersey counterparts, who including Sweeney suffered the loss in November of two Senate seats and four Assembly seats.

Shortly after Sweeney’s Nov. 2 election loss, Jones told POLITICO he did not plan to remove him from the commission.

Jones in his statement Wednesday only hinted at the reason for his change of heart, saying “no person or organization’s goals and ambitions are above the interests of our party and the people of this State.” But insiders immediately knew what he was talking about.

During the congressional redistricting process last month, the commission’s two members from South Jersey proposed late changes to the map that would further benefit U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st Dist.), the brother of Democratic power broker George Norcross who was already ensconced in a safely Democratic district.

It also made tweaks to districts further north they felt were made with South Jersey Democratic political motives in mind.

The other Democratic members of the commission were also concerned that the South Jersey Democrats could cut a deal with Republican commissioners to serve their interests.

Near the end of the process was wrapping up, one of the commissioners — Dana Redd — even wrote an email to the commission’s chair, John Wallace Jr., asking for more time for the two sides to negotiate. That further angered Democrats. While all of the Democratic commissioners voted together, the moves sewed deep mistrust among them.

Potential legal argument: While Sweeeney didn’t say whether he would sue, he hinted at his legal argument: The New Jersey Constitution states that in choosing partisan members of the state legislative redistricting commission, formally known as the Apportionment Commission, the major political parties’ state chairs “shall give due consideration to the representation of the various geographical areas of the State.”

Sweeney was the only Democratic commissioner from South Jersey.

Jones replaced Sweeney with Laura Matos, a longtime Democratic operative and executive at the public affairs firm Kivvit. Matos lives in Belmar, Monmouth County. But the Democratic State Committee press release announcing Sweeney’s ouster and Matos’ appointment didn’t mention where she lived, but rather that she was born: In Burlington County, which unlike Belmar is indisputably in South Jersey.

“Saying she’s from Burlington County so that meets the qualifications is basically me saying I grew up in Pennsauken so I’m going to run for mayor of Pennsauken,” Sweeney said. “I live in West Deptford.”

History: In 2010, shortly after becoming senate president, Sweeney ousted then-Orange Mayor Eldridge Hawkins Jr., an appointment by former Senate President Richard Codey, from the congressional redistricting commission.

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