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 is widely regarded as the state’s most powerful unelected individual.
Norcross and those around him were involved in crafting the Christie-era Grow New Jersey corporate incentives in 2013, which the Murphy administration has criticized. A task force Murphy convened to examine New Jersey’s expired corporate tax break program uncovered a score of allegations on how businesses with close ties to Norcross benefited from the program.
Many times, laws are enacted for seemingly innocuous reasons, but media outlets or watchdog groups later reveal that a provision dropped into the legislation benefited a business or person with close ties to Norcross.
For example, the language of New Jersey’s 2018 sports betting legislation, which crafted a regulatory framework for the business, was written to allow sports bets to be accepted at Towne Place at Garden State Park, the site of a former racetrack and now a commercial and residential development owned by Norcross allies Jack Morris and Joseph Marino.
Norcross, a childhood friend of Murphy’s chief political rival, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, 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.
Despite the controversy, Norcross is arguably the most important economic actor in southern New Jersey. Wherever Camden is going, Norcross will be largely responsible for getting it there.