Gov. Chris Christie and State Sen. President Steve Sweeney were once close allies, but the friendship seems to have disintegrated as Christie and Sweeney are now engaged in a war of words, but it could be pure politics at play.

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Chris Christie (Governor's Office, Tim Larsen)

The pair worked together in 2011 to usher through controversial public employees’ pension and health benefits reform. That same year they worked to pass a two percent cap on property tax increases.

Now, the governor is running for president and could be trying to distance himself from the top Democrat in the state. Sweeney is said to be considering a run for governor in 2017 and might be trying to burnish his Democratic bona fides by proving that he and Christie are not always on the same page.

For his part, Sweeney insisted that he is legitimately upset that Christie is traveling out of state so often as he campaigns for president.

“We’re (Democratic legislators) trying to fix this state’s economy and it doesn’t work when you can’t look each other in the eye, when you don’t communicate. It’s very frustrating so, yeah, it’s irritating,” said Sweeney (D-Thorofare). “When you want to talk about grandstanding nationally, when you’re running for president and you’re letting everything fall apart, yeah, that’s very irritating.”

The public feud boiled over recently because Christie vetoed a gun control bill that would require law enforcement to be notified and consulted when someone seeking a gun permit wants to expunge their mental illness records. The legislation passed unanimously in both houses of the Legislature. Sweeney blasted Christie for pandering to conservatives to bolster his presidential run. Christie said the senate president was playing politics.

“Rather than looking for common ground, the Senate president has rejected bipartisan compromise out of hand and put his own political grandstanding and gubernatorial candidacy ahead of public safety and fixing the gaps that exist in our mental health system,” Christie said in an emailed statement.

Sweeney says the governor’s dishonesty might work in other states, but it won’t work in New Jersey.

“The governor has lost all credibility on what is best for New Jersey. He should devote more time doing what’s right for New Jersey and less time trying to appeal to the extremist positions of Republican primary voters in other states,” Sweeney wrote in a press release.

The Senate president pointed out that he is still in the Garden State working for the people because he cares about them. A spokesman for the governor fired back and said legislators should help Christie accomplish things.

“The Legislature must stop hiding its obsession with increasing taxes behind election-season speeches and join the governor in making the tough, but necessary decisions to reform the public employee benefits system, take up the governor’s proposed tax cut for middle class families, and actually get things done for the people of our state,” said Christie spokesman Brian Murray.

Democrats were scheduled to try and override Christie’s veto of the gun bill this Thursday. They have failed in every previous attempt.

Kevin McArdle has covered the State House for New Jersey 101.5 news since 2002. Contact him at Follow him on twitter at @kevinmcardle1.