Backed by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Phil Murphy, John Currie tonight took the oath of office for another six months in charge of the Democratic State Committee.
Currie first assumed the chairmanship of the state party in 2013 as a compromise choice, when South Jersey prevented the ascent of Democratic Party nominee Barbara Buono’s choice from becoming chair by mobilizing behind state Senator Ray Lesniak.
Lesniak and Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell cancelled each other out, producing the statewide birth of Currie. At that time, the long-serving Passaic County Democratic Chairman was coming off his biggest win in 2012, when he helped steer Paterson-based Congressman Bill Pascrell through the Democratic Primary past U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman of Bergen County.
Currie last year secured his continuation as chairman when he helped align the quad county chairs behind Murphy for Governor. His whole team returned to power tonight at the Hilton in East Brunswick. Murphy personally swore in the officers.
In an otherwise pro forma event, Currie did turn a few heads and cause at least one spat up mouthful of coffee when he summoned Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19) to lead the group of committee members in the Pledge of Allegiance. A Middlesex player whose bosses cut a deal with South Jersey, Coughlin is waging a backroom war against sitting Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) – Currie’s North Jersey ally – to sit on the throne of the lower chamber.
A source in the room interpreted the act as a play by Currie for his LG choice, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35), whose allies are trying to fend off a late and aggressive play by Essex to land the position for Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-34). South Jersey and Middlesex Democrats cut the deal for Steve Sweeney to return to the senate presidency and for Coughlin to supplant Prieto. As a North County chair and member of the quad county alliance (Hudson, Passaic, Essex and Bergen), Currie would appear to be in position to back Prieto for speaker. But by empowering Prieto’s rival Coughlin, Currie appeared to take a position in that fight, causing the source to speculate about Currie’s stepped up efforts on behalf of goddaughter Sumter as the last balanced piece on a statewide board already populated by Murphy, Sweeney and Coughlin.
But there remains a strong Essex push for Oliver.
Another party source dismissed that interpretation of the gesture as anything more than respect paid to Coughlin in his home county.