Legislation forcing government workers to pay more for benefits was unthinkable under a wimp like Jon Corzine. Tomorrow, it should sail to passage no matter how many giant inflatable rats the unions blew up in protest in Trenton.
In Philly, Nutter lost because he seems unable or unwilling to play politics. In Jersey, Christie and Sweeney won because they know how to field a team and stick to the game plan.
Bipartisan Batman and Robin
By now, anyone with basic cable has seen Christie on TV vowing to right-size government and slay labor. He digs the rough stuff, which only fuels the adoration. Just last week, CNN's Piers Morgan engaged in an hour-long lip-lock, begging Christie to run for president.
But what to make of Sweeney's choosing to be Robin to Christie's Batman?
Sweeney, a union ironworker by trade, actually launched the entitlement attack in 2006 by proposing to hack state workers' pay and opposing a sales-tax hike to prop up unsustainable and underfunded pensions. For that, Sweeney got scolded by union leaders delivering threats.
"They told me they were going to target me for defeat," he recalls. "This, after being Mr. Labor my whole life!"
"I told them, 'You guys are the problem. If you really want to get into a fight, we'll fight. Because what you're doing is wrong.' "
By wrong, he means insisting that teachers, firefighters, and bureaucrats are so special, they should be exempt from the belt-tightening affecting everyone else.
"Cops get mad when I say this, but the average cost of their health care and pension is $47,000," Sweeney explains, "and that's before we pay them."
And the state's top-shelf insurance costs $19,000 a year. "It covers everything," Sweeney sighs. "We have a lot of overinsured people in state government."
A dream team awakens?
As the face of the South Jersey Democrats - boss George Norcross operates the remote controls - Sweeney hammered out the bipartisan compromise with Christie.
The pension and health-care reforms enraged legislators and splintered the Democratic Party. But together, they could save the state $107 million the first year. Over 30 years, the pension fixes alone could save $120 billion.
Just as Nutter refuses to see the soda-tax failure as a political misstep, the New Jersey unions continue to insist change is not imminent.
"I got three e-mails and two phone calls urging me to call legislators and go to Trenton Thursday," says a teacher friend frustrated by having funded a misguided fight.
This teacher has no time for futile road trips. School's out for summer, but she still has to work.
Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670, email@example.com or philly.com/kinney. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq.