Spending $2,300, GOP newcomer Ed Durr beats top NJ lawmaker

New Jersey’s longtime state Senate president, Democrat Steve Sweeney, has 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, has 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.

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, which would go on to become key supporters of Murphy.

His feud with the state’s biggest teacher’s union over retirement benefits among other issues led to a 2017 battle in which the New Jersey Education Association spent millions to try to defeat Sweeney against his GOP challenger. The union’s effort failed.

But this year, Durr defeated him, spending $153.31, according to Election Law Enforcement Commission documents.

Sweeney is an ironworker by trade who has served as an executive with the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers. He is also a key ally and friend of Democratic power broker George Norcross, who’s widely considered to be one of the most powerful unelected people in the state.

The 3rd Legislative District covers parts of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.

Coming into Election Day, Democrats had controlled the Assembly with 52 seats to Republicans’ 28. In the Senate, Democrats had 25 seats to the Republicans’ 15.

New Jersey’s Legislature consists of 40 districts, which each send one senator and two Assembly members to Trenton. Assembly members serve two-year terms, while senators serve four-year terms except for the first election after the census, which comes this year, when they serve two-year terms.

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