Protester dragged from NJ powerbroker hearing; Murphy calls it ‘outrageous’
TRENTON — One of New Jersey’s most influential Democratic powerbrokers disputed corruption allegations at a legislative hearing Monday where a woman organizing protests against him was dragged from the room by state police.
George Norcross is an executive at insurance broker Conner Strong & Buckelew and chairs the board of Camden’s Cooper University Hospital and health system. He has long been one of the state’s loudest cheerleaders for Camden, once known as the country’s poorest and most dangerous city.
During his hour-plus testimony before a Democratic-led state Senate panel, Norcross rebutted assertions from a task force Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy established this year to probe tax breaks that Norcross and his partners helped craft the legislation and then benefited from.
The most unexpected part of the hearing, though, happened before Norcross spoke when Sue Altman, director of New Jersey Working Families, was hauled from the hearing by troopers.
The confrontation came after some in the audience applauded and booed another witness. Smith told troopers to remove people toward the back of the group over the disruption, even though Altman was on the side.
The disruption lasted five to 10 minutes, and at one point troopers dragged Altman by her arms past a seated Norcross toward the exit.
She said she was cited for disorderly conduct. A message has been left with state troopers seeking comment.
Altman and the protesters contend Norcross operates a political machine that seeks to maintain its own power — to the detriment of Camden residents.
Murphy at an unrelated event called Altman’s removal “outrageous” and called on lawmakers to apologize to Altman.
Monday was the first time the public has heard directly from Norcross, a Democratic donor and former Camden County party chairman, in the yearlong disagreement between lawmakers and Murphy over how to reestablish business tax breaks that expired on July 1.
“I am here ... to speak for myself, not through lawyers or spokespeople, to defend Camden and to correct many misstatements, mischaracterizations and outright mistruths that are having serious negative impact on the revitalization of our city. They need to stop. The residents of Camden and New Jersey deserve better,” Norcross said.
The hearing would have been raucous even without Altman’s removal.
When Norcross walked in, protesters wearing stickers reading “Trenton Makes Norcross Takes” began chanting “Down with King George, Down with King George,” and committee chairman Bob Smith warned that he would ask state police to remove protesters who disrupted the hearing.
Norcross didn’t address the scene when he spoke. He responded in part to a June report from the task force that Norcross’ brother and a partner rewrote tax break legislation to help Conner Strong and that the size of Conner Strong’s award hinged on their role in writing the bill.
Norcross said he and his partners invested $300 million in the city, including a new waterfront office that now hosts his businesses in the city. He disputed having a role in crafting the legislation himself.
Conner Strong got an $86 million award, while Cooper was approved for a $40 million award to move jobs to Camden.
New Jersey state approved $8 billion in awards. The expired program dates back to 2013, when Republican Gov. Chris Christie and the Democrat-led Legislature enacted the award.
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