Currie v Jones: ‘When the Fastball Don’t Work, You Try the Curve’

Having racked up blue wave numbers externally but still beset by inner paroxysms, the Democratic Party proceeded to cannibalize itself with a party chairman's fight, which revealed a combination of muscular confidence on the one hand, and also real fracture stemming from that part of the establishment’s resistance to Governor Phil Murphy.

The thrust of a Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3)-championed redistricting commission overhaul was to defang Murphy and his state party chairman, John Currie. That failed, and now the movement is to run Currie off with Essex County Democratic Party Chairman Leroy Jones.

“When the fast ball don’t work, you try the curve,” deadpanned one insider who leans Currie.

“Bulls-t,” said a source who backs Jones. “I know the timing looks just awful. It looks like payback for redistricting. But it’s actually because Brendan Gill [Murphy’s minder] was lining up [U.S. Senator Cory] Booker for Currie, and so they moved with Jones.”

The source said he expects Booker to switch over to Jones.

“He’s risk-averse,” said the source, giving a nod to the establishment anti-Murphy brain trust emanating from South Jersey that backs Jones over stout Murphy ally Currie.

But that was just speculation. A source close to Gill said it wasn’t true. InsiderNJ heard last Friday that Jones was making the rounds, going in person to meet key county chairs and leaders and leaning on go-betweens to gauge interest and commitment.

In the meantime, party members began laying bets about whether Currie would come out of this more like Vinny Prieto, a so-called nice guy who lost his speakership in a war with South Jersey (partly because of the people around Prieto, partly because of poor tactics by Prieto); or Amy DeGise, who stared down a challenge to her nice guy father because of a challenge that looked like aggressive overreach.

People like Jones.

People like Currie.

But will the mobilization of forces against the benignly likeable long-serving  state party chairman simply underscore his avuncular mainstay qualities – a repeat of the Tom DeGise story – and give him a narrative to fight back against getting chewed into the meat grinder of South Jersey under the guise of “it’s time” for fellow North Jersey and former quad-county chair) Jones? Or will the 114 voting state party committee people (98 rank and file members and 14 leaders and digs) lean toward giving Currie the boot out of a combination of Murphy irritation, irritation with Murphy people on the state committee payroll, and, yes, the accumulation of time (six and a half years) for Currie?

Having infuriated Sweeney when he opted to join his fellow quad-county North Jersey chairs to back Murphy for governor, Jones dove back to the establishment’s security blanket by backing Sweeney again for senate president, harvesting votes to heave-ho Prieto and back the South Jersey seesaw candidacy of Craig Coughlin for speaker. In return, Murphy chipped in lieutenant governor for Jones ally Sheila Oliver (a layup), and South Jersey and Middlesex gave Jones Assembly Budget Chair (Eliana Pintor Marin). “Hardly a great deal for Essex,” pouted one Essex Dem.

But having squared himself up with the team again, Jones now has the responsibility of turning out a man discarded by the team (like Prieto and Oliver and, to a certain extent, Joe Cryan and Jason O’Donnell in the past), largely because the team in this instance had soured on the Governor.

Brian Stack was walking into the chairmanship earlier this year in Hudson County, but threw an elbow at the aging DeGise, rousing the lion that was left in the man. So it was that an insider once told InsiderNJ, “I’d be retired by now if not for the fact that they punched me in the mouth. It’s when they pull that schoolyard bully stuff that the old tiger comes out again. That’s why I’m still standing here.

“Not because I want to be – but because I have to be, as a man,” the source said.

Notwithstanding that one source’s claim of a Fort Sumter shot issued by the Murphy side, might Currie have opted for a long cruise away from the madness but for the belligerence of Sweeney and company?  On the heels of their failed redistricting effort and within an atmosphere palpitating with new blood energy, might the cobwebby establishment have gone out too far this time, as Stack and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop did with DeGise?

“Nah,” one source insisted. “The staff hasn’t served John [Currie] well. People know it. Too big a payroll. With the governor’s people in there, he’s not in charge anymore. This isn’t about John, it’s about Phil.

“Fulop’s gonna be with Jones, by the way,” the source speculated devilishly, trying to stretch the countywide DeGIse versus Fulop narrative into this statewide fight.

On Thursday night, sources close to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka sent conflicting messages, with one saying there was no way the mayor could buck his own county chair, and another one insisting, “He’ll be with Currie as long as Currie wants it.”

That latter source did go dark fast, however.

There were plums too, to go around.

Earlier this year, some buzz surrounded the possible vice chairmanship of Hunterdon County Democratic Committee Chairman Arlene Quinones Perez, then died almost as fast. Then there’s Somerset County Democratic Committee Chair Peg Schaffer, coming off big county wins in November.

“Perfect vice chair right there,” said one hungry politico affiliated – informally – with Jones.

Various scenarios began to take shape, with people jittery about taking sides, others diving into the wreck, ravaged Republicans trying to finish the year on an upswing by watching Democrats tear one another to pieces, Murphy off on safari in Africa, and a politically mauled state crawling toward Christmas.



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