New Jersey Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney on Wednesday conceded his loss in last week’s election, an upset that sent shock waves through the state’s political world, but said he would remain a player in Garden State politics.
“I will be speaking from a different podium, but I promise you: I will be just as loud and just as forceful a voice for change,” he told reporters at the Statehouse in Trenton.
Sweeney also congratulated his opponent, Edward Durr Jr., a previously unknown South Jersey Republican who has never served in elected office. Durr’s victory over Sweeney, the longest-serving Senate president in the state’s history and the second-most powerful elected official in Trenton, was an unexpected and major blow to South Jersey’s Democratic establishment.
“All votes have been fairly counted, and I, of course, accept the results,” Sweeney said.
Durr won by a few more than 2,200 votes out of 65,000 cast, according to the Associated Press. Sweeney held off on conceding for a week, saying he wanted all votes counted. Republican Jack Ciattarelli, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign to oust Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, has also urged patience while the votes are counted and has not yet conceded that race despite Murphy’s 72,000-vote lead.
Gloucester County’s Sweeney has put his stamp on most major legislative accomplishments in the last decade. With the help of his childhood friend George E. Norcross III, the millionaire insurance executive and Democratic power broker, Sweeney, 62, spent years building political clout for South Jersey, a region once overshadowed by the Democrats in the northern part of the state.
In his comments to reporters Wednesday, Sweeney touted his efforts to get paid family leave signed into law, bring wind-energy manufacturing to South Jersey, raise the minimum wage, and reform the state pension system.
“I will keep speaking out for fiscal responsibility and reform. I will be a strong voice for unity, for economic opportunity, and for competitiveness and growth,” Sweeney said, adding, “Most of all, I will be a champion for the enactment of policies that make New Jersey affordable. ...”
Durr, a 58-year-old truck driver, has said his win was a repudiation of the state’s pandemic policies such as vaccine and mask mandates. Soon after the election, he faced calls to resign after a reporter turned up offensive social media posts, such as one calling undocumented immigrants “criminals” and another that referred to Islam as a “false religion.” Durr deleted the posts last week and said he supports “everybody’s right to worship in any manner they choose.”
Durr will take office in January and serve a two-year term, then can run for a four-year term under New Jersey’s electoral system.