WEST ORANGE – Democratic State Party Chairman LeRoy Jones wants to see outgoing Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) make a comeback next year by challenging U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2).
Democrat turned Republican Van Drew changed parties to keep his seat in 2020. His fellow South Jerseyan, Democrat Sweeney, went down in defeat earlier this month. Jones would like to see Sweeney return to augment Democrats’ 10-2 congressional delegation, and punish Van Drew in the process.
In a wide-ranging interview this afternoon with InsiderNJ at his Essex County party office, Jones – state Democratic Party chairman since June – talked about 2022 congressional contests, the redistricting process leading up to those races, and many other New Jersey political subjects.
The chairman discussed the outcome of the 2021 gubernatorial election, in which incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy put up underwhelming numbers against Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, while history as the first Democrat reelected to the office since 1977. Jones had some pointed words for his own party as he considered how Democrats can improve. Significantly, he noted the 2021 Democrats’ overreliance on polling, which nurtured a false sense of security and convinced Murphy and his allies of a double digit lead. The governor would end up defeating Ciattarelli by three points.
The party chairman discussed potential 2025 gubernatorial candidates from his home county of Essex, citing Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11), and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka as viable contenders. He discussed legislative redistricting, where he serves as chair of the Democrats’ cause, and shared his sense of a map that would give his party more chances to grow in addition to protecting current advantages and incumbents.
Jones considered next year’s Newark mayor’s race and several developing ward contests, including the west and east. His friend and ally, Mayor Ras Baraka, wants a third term in office, and Jones made clear his support for Baraka and for North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos and At-Large Councilman Luis Quintana. He may get involved elsewhere locally in those races, but will decide on a case-by-case basis.
The chairman also discussed the impact of the federal infrastructure and Build Back Better bills on the upcoming season, the role Essex does and will play in statewide politics, his impressions of the state party chairmanship so far, a post he holds concurrently with his chairmanship of the East Orange Democratic Committee and the Essex County Democratic Committee, and the coming changed political dynamic in Trenton as a consequence of Sweeney losing his 2021 reelection bid.
You can watch the (FULL!) InsiderNJ with Chairman Jones below: