Between chairing legislative redistricting, serving as the state spokesman for his party and chief political architect, Democratic State Party Chairman LeRoy Jones has had a busy – and volatile – year.
Of course, it’s not over.
A year after helping the 2021 reelection effort of Governor Phil Murphy, Jones will captain Democrats’ federal reelection efforts in November, as the party attempts to restore ten incumbent New Jersey congress people of the 12 now in office.
When it comes down to it, Jones sees four battleground districts: the ones occupied by U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-7), U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11), U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-3), and U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5).
“We’re talking about the battlegrounds: 7, 11, 3 and 5 – and not necessarily in that order,” Jones told InsiderNJ in his Essex County Democratic Party office.
“Of course, 7 rises to the top as the more challenging district,” he acknowledged.
That’s Malinowski, who faces a challenge from former state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. Malinowski defeated Kean in 2020, but he had a more favorable Democratic Party district then. Post congressional redistricting, the district slightly favors Kean.
Jones said he believes Malinowski will win, and cited the gamut of issues he can run on against his GOP rival.
“Roe v Wade, guns, voting rights, reproductive rights will be the order of the day,” the chairman said. “The economy looms large: gas prices, yes, and we can’t ignore the prices people are encountering when they visit the supermarket. It has become much more challenging for consumers’ pocket books.
“It’s going to be an aggressive campaign in every one of those districts, Jones added. “We’re going to put the solutions on the table, and I believe we will prevail in each of those districts. It won’t be a cake walk, but we did learn lessons learned from last November. We continue to build on areas left untouched and we know where we had our missteps. Everybody is sharply focused on this.”
As Ukrainians continue to defend their country against a hostile Russian invasion, Jones said he believes Malinowski – formerly of the state department – in particular is well positioned to continue to offer constituents stronger, more prepared representation.
Kean, he said, has run away from the media.
“Congressman Malinowski has unique experience, that’s second to none,” the chairman said. “His opponent doesn’t come close to that kind of professional repertoire and knowledge of the intricacies of foreign governments and foreign affairs. We have an obligation to preserve peace around the world. That said, we cant get too lost in the minutiae. Finally, it comes back to the voter who says, ‘What have you done for lately at home?’ as that person encounters high gas and food prices.
“When it comes to Senator Kean’s disappearance, I think it speaks volumes about his lack of openness and sharing. His father wasn’t that guy but it’s clear he’s not his father. I’m a little disappointed in Senator Kean. I never thought we would see eye to eye on every issue but he’s not the guy he wants people to think he is. He’s a little bit underwhelming if you ask me. You have to be able to talk for your message to be clear. Senator Kean is very disappointing. His avoidance of the media suggests he doesn’t have command of the issues.”
This InsiderNJ interview occurred in the lead up to the state Legislature’s approval of the 2023 state Budget. “I think it’s a solid contribution [to helping New Jerseyans through difficult economic times],” said the chairman. “I would like us to do more, absolutely. We’re in a unique period right now with the state budget. In the past there was little money to go around but now there is a larger amount of money. You have to be frugal about it, and plan for the years ahead, while providing relief to make life more affordable. I think the budget does that. Republicans here don’t have much to say about anything. They’ll make cannon fodder out of anything.”
For more on Jones’ reaction to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, please go here.
That ruling, and another round of mass shootings, underscore New Jersey’s right alternative path, the chairman argued.
“It’s a gut punch from the Supreme Court, but people should remember that New Jersey has probably the second strongest gun laws in the nation; our voting rights are fair. New Jersey is a place that can offer so much more than we find on the federal side. They have to find things to conjure up.”
While Democrats have their own internal divisions, including blowback from an ongoing North versus South scrap in New Jersey dramatized by Jones tossing former Senate President Steve Sweeney off the redistricting commission, Republicans have had to pretzel themselves around a mob’s Jan. 6th, 2021 desecration of the United States Capitol, said the chairman.
“The Republican Party is in disarray,” he said. “Do we have our challenges on our side? Of course, we do. We have differences of philosophy and politics. That’s never going to change. What we have to do is to manage all of that, and ultimately people are represented by the officeholders. What you see with Republicans is much more mean-spirited, epitomized by Roe v Wade and their resistance to sensible gun laws. I’m not suggesting at all that we should abandon our 2nd Amendment, but why don’t we control and manage whose hands weapons get in? Also, Jan. 6th is something they wear. It’s a day of infamy that led to loss of life, and a threat to the ratification of the 2020 election by then-Vice President Mike Pence.
“Yes, I do think so,” Jones added, in response to a question about whether federal prosecutors should move on former President Donald J. Trump for his role in Jan. 6th.
“He was responsible. He was culpable. He created what we saw. He should be charged with sedition and you’ve seen, based on the testimony of his former allies, none of them felt he was justifiable. He incited the insurrection. He lost control and never walked it back. Yes, he should be prosecuted. It’s unfortunate, but the Office of the Presidency should not deem him immune.”
Focused on this year’s general election, Jones also knows he must consider the 2024 presidential election and the 2025 gubernatorial contest. The latter presents the possibility of multiple statewide candidates from Essex attempting to land the Democratic Party nomination. They include U.S. Rep. Sherrill, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller. In terms of presidential politics, two New Jersey Democrats continue to appear curious about running if incumbent President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris do not pursue reelection.
“Right now that’s just talk; just people’s perceptions,” Jones said of 2024 buzz. “In the last gubernatorial perceived primary I said ‘we will all be together,’ and that panned out. I think reality will set in. People will determine whether they have the ability to move forward or the desire. In the meantime, Essex county has strong possible candidates.
“When it comes to Governor Murphy and Senator Booker, I think, to the same point, we’re blessed with individuals who have the ability to serve in the highest office in the land. They’re talented and they have the ability to deliver a strong showing in the primary or as the nominee of the party. We still don’t know what current President Biden is going to do or Vice President Harris.”