Along Came Jones


I don’t like wading into New Jersey political fights, usually because the “combatants” aren’t worth expending energy for, in a state of so many hard-working, good people still fast deflating under years of governmental neglect.

But in this case, Democratic State Party Chairman LeRoy Jones clearly showed leadership today, and that quality seldom appears in a state where the main political players would rather audition for bit parts in a television remake of Goodfellas sooner than act with gravitas, and where titles like “state party chairman” usually mean subservience to miniaturized pooh-bahs of power.

The place is a dumping ground of so much obsequious behavior by members of a political establishment they want to keep afloat at whatever the cost, in fact, that you have to savor those rare displays of guts, like what Jones showed earlier today.

Seeking to uphold the dignity of his own office and the responsibility of his chairmanship of the redistricting commission and knowing the potential price, Jones did the right thing when he removed former Senate President Steve Sweeney from the commission.

South Jersey Power Broker George Norcross – Sweeney’s regional ally – tried to demean Jones when the latter sought to cut a deal with his predecessor, John Currie, rather than rely on South Jersey to close on statewide power. This proved a critical and prescient decision by Jones, county chairman of Essex, the county with the state’s biggest plurality of Democrats, as Sweeney lost his reelection bid last year in the maw of a reddening region of the state. Sweeney didn’t bother showing up to Jones getting sworn-in as party chair last June, incidentally.

During congressional redistricting, Norcross sought to short circuit the process late in the game when he tried to prevail on the commission to reconsider their final map, presumably in order to make U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1) and U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) stronger. The late plan to empower Gottheimer beyond the tweaks already made to the map would have weakened U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11), sources said. The Essex-based congresswoman’s emerging stature as a statewide contender makes those bosses beyond her immediate vicinity more than a little jittery. North Jersey sources said if anyone messed with Sherrill’s district as constituted in the formally submitted, pre-South Jersey panic mode map, there would be hell to pay.

Well, as it turns out, there was, as Jones again decided to be a state party chairman merely than enjoy the title. Aided by the fact that Sweeney lost his reelection bid, and with a reservoir of his own leadership experience to draw from (former assemblyman, former East Orange city administrator, freeholder, and local and county party chair), Jones decided he didn’t want South Jersey holding the rest of the state hostage anymore, and the encumbrance of Norcross dictating to others as if they should all fulfill the role of underlings.

The menacing Norcross helicopter landing in northern backyards just finally irritated too many people, and made it easier for allies formerly amenable to placating the South tell the state party chairman in the lead up to his announcement today, “Do what you have to do.”

And he did.

Of course, his decision enraged Norcross’ allies, and speculation immediately ensued regarding those South Jersey Democratic Party officeholders still remaining.

Would they defect to the Republican ranks in the state legislature?

Maybe in the Senate, a source speculated. But a defection of that kind would not be easy in the Assembly. Plus, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald – not to mention Donald Norcross – too deep in the Democratic Party.

Rest assured, as Jones himself predicted tonight in explaining his decision, the backlash will come. “He doesn’t have anything else to do,” a source said of Norcross. “Berating fellow Democrats – this is like the local bridge club for him.”

For him.

But someone else today proved the office he holds means far more to him than servicing a rich man’s recreational hobby, even as a God awful food desert persists in Camden, South Jersey’s largest city.

In making the call to remove Sweeney and replace him with respected veteran Laura Matos, a leader showed up, showing a humility, dignity, and honorable code of conduct others in this sagging state would be remiss not to acknowledge and uphold.

His name is Jones.

This piece represents my own opinion.

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