MONTCLAIR – The name, NJ 11th For Change, kind of says it all – a grassroots group concentrating on the doings in northern New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District. But now – just a year after the group helped “flip” the 11th in favor of Democrat Mikie Sherrill – its focus may be broadening beyond district boundaries.
Saily Avelenda, the group’s executive director, said Tuesday afternoon that members may become active elsewhere around New Jersey during what promises to be a contentious and emotionally-charged 2020 election. Speaking during a panel discussion at Montclair State University, Avelenda referred to districts 7 and 3 where newly-elected Democrats Thomas Malinowski and Andy Kim respectively appear to face tough reelection battles.
In contrast, Sherrill appears to be in a more comfortable position in District 11, but things can always change. “We’re very ambitious,” Avelenda said.
In fact, the group’s efforts may even extend outside New Jersey, given the fact New Jersey, as Avelenda put it, “is ultimately going to be blue” next year.
But nearby Pennsylvania, where some group activists may head next fall is a definite battleground state.
Then there’s Arizona. Yes, Arizona.
July Kelly Sudol, the group’s field director and another panel participant, said members from West Orange want to write post cards and perhaps do other far-away campaigning to help Democrat Mark Kelly’s U.S. Senate bid in Arizona. Kelly is a West Orange native and husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was seriously injured in a 2011 mass shooting.
All this is heady stuff for an organization that formed via Facebook after the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Before that fateful event, Avelenda said she voted, but did nothing else politically. The group’s signature achievement was what turned into regular Friday demonstrations outside the Morristown office of then Congressman Rodney P. Frelinghuysen. The initial gripe was that Frelinghuysen was refusing to hold town hall meetings. But then some group members did arrange a meeting with Frelinghuysen.
Mara Novak, the group’s political director, said it was a political awakening for her and others when she said Frelinghuysen admitted he sometimes voted the way he did simply to please the House leadership.
Now that Sherrill is in office, the group’s weekly newsletter tracks her performance,
And mindful of the misstep that began Frelinghuysen’s downfall, Sherrill already has held almost 10 town hall-type events since taking office in January.
Avelenda was asked by panel moderator Brigid Harrison, a political science professor and columnist, if NJ 11th For Change tries to push Sherrill to the left. She deflected the question, saying it’s more important for Sherrill to listen to public concerns, Still, it was acknowledged that Sherrill is not a true “progressive” or liberal on every issue. The group seems prepared to live with that. As Avelenda said, “There’s no such thing as perfect” in politics.