Anyone trying to navigate New Jersey politics will not get very far before hearing the name George Norcross. The Camden County political powerbroker, executive chairman at Conner Strong & Buckelew, and chairman of the board of trustees at Cooper University Health Care has been widely regarded as the state’s most powerful unelected individual.
It’s clear that Norcross’ influence over New Jersey politics took a hit this November following Democratic electoral losses, including the upset of his childhood friend, longtime and now-former Senate President Stephen Sweeney. Several other top South Jersey lawmakers were also defeated, but the extent to which Norcross’ power has been diminished is unclear.
“I think the tax incentive investigations that started in 2019 were the beginning of some really difficult years for George politically,” said one political insider. “He’s just not as strong politically.”
Others suggest that his ability to forge alliances will make him reach further into Central Jersey, which now serves as the nexus of political power for New Jersey’s top elected officials.
“George always knows how to make friends when he needs them,” another insider said. “There is nobody better than George that knows how to build allies.”
For years, many laws enacted for seemingly innocuous reasons were later discovered to include provisions that benefited a business or person with close ties to Norcross.
“When you look at the budget” in March, “you’re going to see that Camden County, Camden City – the things that are important to Norcross in Camden, like Cooper, they’re going to do extraordinarily well in the budget,” said a person in the know.
Norcross has described himself as one of the key figures in Camden’s revival. Progressive groups, though, question how broad the city’s recovery has been. And, in fact, wherever Camden is going, Norcross will be largely responsible for getting it there. For example the tax credit bill, one Trenton insider noted, has a significant “South Jersey component.”
The businesses that Norcross is involved with — insurance and health care — have been affected by the pandemic. Cooper has been at the front lines for South Jersey’s response to the pandemic, while Conner Strong & Buckelew is a major New Jersey player in an insurance industry which has completely retooled itself over the past two years.