Removal of Norcross critic from public meeting highlights feud among NJ Democrats

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The removal of a progressive activist from a public meeting at the state House Monday is provoking a national reaction and highlights an ongoing feud inside the state Democratic Party.

Monday’s meeting was billed as giving political powerbroker George Norcross a chance to defend the billions of dollars of tax breaks given out in New Jersey over the years. Norcross has strong political influence in South Jersey for more than 25 years. He is part of a more moderate ring of Democrats that includes state Senate President Steve Sweeney.

These moderates have clashed with progressives like Gov. Phil Murphy over the tax breaks Norcross and others have received.

There was a strong reaction when Norcross criticizer Sue Altman, with the group New Jersey Working Families, was dragged from the meeting after a group of people both booed and cheered Norcross as he was coming into the hearing.

"There is a power structure in Camden that pursues and punishes people who speak out,” Altman says. "Usually it happens in backrooms, and all other kinds of ways of retaliation and it usually happens with black and brown people, but I think it's a culture of fear and compliance or else."

RELATED: Democratic powerbroker George Norcross defends tax breaks; critic removed from hearing 

Altman’s removal was ordered by Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Smith. Smith defended his actions on Tuesday. He says that he only asked state troopers to remove people who he could see booing or cheering. He says that this is common practice for any hearing that he chairs.

At an event at Montclair State University Tuesday, Norcross called the incident a "very unfortunate event" and denied asking Smith to remove Altman. Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray was in the room.

"There was no question in my mind as an observer that they wanted to get Sue Altman from Working Families out of the room before George Norcross talked,” Murray says. "I can only assume that's going to be the images that people see from this story, is she was dragged out right in front of George Norcross. And the questions are, ‘Why?’”

Altman's removal generated outrage from the governor and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.

The state Attorney General's Office is investigating the incident. The office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Altman's court hearing for disrupting a public meeting was supposed to be held Tuesday morning, but it was postponed.

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