Filing Deadline Observations (and Other Murphy Versus Sweeney Considerations)

Democratic State Chair Fun: Currie, Timberlake and Jones.

It’s filing deadline day in the state of New Jersey, where insiders expect flareups here and there, and local fistfights indicative of ego collisions in places like Roselle and Union Twp. (Senator Joe Cryan of Union versus Assemblyman Jamel Holley of Roselle).

In Roselle, there’s a three-way contest for mayor that has up-the-food chain implications. In Union, Cryan will weather a challenge for chairman and committee.

Remember, Cryan’s rival, Union County Democratic Committee Chairman (and state Senator) Nick Scutari got tossed out of his local prosecutor’s gig last year on the go order issued by Linden Mayor Derek Armstead, a Cryan ally.

Now, heartened by their guys’ wins in School Board races in Cryan’s backyard, the Scutari wing wants payback.

But no major player (or significant legislator) will get buzz cut in this cycle. No legislator beset by the cloakroom rivalries of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Governor Phil Murphy will boil alive in a district-wide proxy war – or even break a nail.

This is the equivalent of breathing space between life and death federal elections.

The players have insulated themselves with collateral damage conflagrations in their districts, as the fights in Roselle and Union indicate.

Soldiers (privates, not sergeants or even corporals) will eat the grenades on the ground.

The officers (state lawmakers) will mostly glide back into office, with the possible exceptions of LD8 and LD21. Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-8) and his running mate Sheriff Jean Stanfield will have to cut through a primary on their way to a tough general election fight where Democrats want to pick up seats. And Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-21) and running mate Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-21) likewise will have a general election challenge at the very least arguably made more challenging by the interference of conservative independents in the race. The Democratic organization in Union backs allies Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman but attorney Jill Lazare also filed to run in the primary.

Also, keep an eye on the 1st District, where Senator Robert Andrzejczak will apparently face Cumberland County GOP Chairman Mike Testa in a general election battle for the seat left behind by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-1).

In the end, with apologies to Pete Townsend, it’s a case of the prevailing old boss.

Here’s a look at a few of those players behind the players and where they stand at this moment in time:

Currie and Murphy.

John Currie

He leads the New Jersey Democratic Party, which in New Jersey means fighting the party. The State Democratic Party chairman heads an organization whose primary brain trust located in South Jersey doesn’t want Governor Phil Murphy to have his own party chairman. So they want to dump Currie, who basically put Murphy in office with the help of other northern chairs intent on boxing out Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3). He’s in a tough spot, Currie, but he apparently managed to lean on Murphy (and Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh) to short-circuit the Democratic Primary sheriff’s candidacy of Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale and prevent a civil war from breaking out in Passaic (where he simultaneously serves as county chair). Passaic on fire would have consumed Currie in his backyard, hardly the posture of someone trying to handle statewide duties.

Leroy Jones

Coughlin, left, and Jones

Party to an organizational effort launched by the South Jersey brain trust to ice Currie, the Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman stands to become the state party chair in time for a presidential election and (more critically to the current power structure) in time for 2021 redistricting. Jones has friends in high places (including 2020 presidential candidate U.S. Senator Cory Booker, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, who heads the state’s Department of Community Affairs, and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who’s close to South Jersey Democratic Power Broker George Norcross III and Sweeney), but ultimately he stands astride his own East Orange power center on the basis of Essex’s sheer numerical advantages in terms of Democratic Party registration and output. This year’s election cycle offers nothing in the way of challenge. zero civil war optics in his home county. More energy will be expended in the area of appearing not to care about the state party chairmanship amid ground zero intrigue and implications than in elections where warring Democrats can continue to pretend that Republicans are the real enemies, mail it in, and do great.

Kevin McCabe

DiVincenzo COS Phil Alagia, left, with McCabe.

The Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman has had to delicately tiptoe on a political tightrope. Like other chairs allied with South Jersey, he’s had to give sufficient wriggling room to caucus members who rely on the caucus largess of Senate President Sweeney. The senate president, of course, is openly at odds with the governor. But McCabe can’t allow his disciplined delegation to become too obviously overly enthralled with the South. They need their own Speaker Craig Coughlin of Woodbridge to stay where he is, which is why Coughlin usually appears more willing to bring Murphy and Sweeney together than to tee off on Murphy amid South Jersey cackling. It’s all studied and mannered and theatrical, a mind-numbing exercise in insisting that the speaker is the state’s lone “adult in the room,” but Coughlin supposedly had the votes to make marijuana legalization happen, unlike Sweeney, who didn’t, and that says a lot, even if in the end Middlesex wants South Jersey choice Jones, not Murphy’s choice Currie, to lead the party.


Doug Steinhardt

Keeping the party relevant is hard in New Jersey, at a time when Donald Trump leads the GOP nationally and Democrats eat up all the oxygen, even if their collective efforts amount to cannibalizing one another. Chair of the state Republican Party, Steinhardt’s proved busy jabbing at Murphy and his policies, but in the end, outnumbered by well over a million registered voters, he’s like Leonidas at Thermopolae, or the male title character in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, a man capable of giving beautiful speeches, even with the Roman Army on top of him and the campaign over. All the running around, all the speeches, all the events, all the falling on one’s sword for Trump has to add up to something. So Steinhardt’s allies have begun positioning the chair for a gubernatorial run.

Amy DeGise


The Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) wants to get rid of West New York Mayor Felix Roque in the May nonpartisan election, but can otherwise hit the snooze alarm on the cycle. The only other opportunity for a hoe down will be in North Bergen, where party tough guy Mayor (and state Senator) Nick Sacco, is expected to steer wrestle down a challenge by businessman Larry Wainstein. But any hope of a war died last year when DeGise, chair of the HCDO, defeated Union City Mayor (and state Senator0 Brian P. Stack to secure peace in time for her father, Hudson County Democratic Chairman Tom DeGise’s, 2019 reelection. There will (at the very least as of this post updating at noon on Monday) have a primary in LD32 (Sacco World), for what it’s worth (see below):

Lou Stellato

Stellato World

The Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman achieved extraordinary results in his nearly decade-long stewardship of the party organization in tatters when he took over in 2011. Stellato essentially turned Bergen into the new Hudson, right on the heels of then-Governor Chris Christie entertaining questions about turning Hudson into the new Bergen. Now the only question is whether Stellato wants to Tony Bennett-it out some more in a lounge act county for Democrats that was once a true battleground. There’s continuing buzz about what would happen if Stellato decided to ride into into the sunset. Public Works pooh-bah Paul Juliano is a party option, and the name of Freeholder Tim Sullivan has circulated more recently, but again, only if Stellato chooses at some point to retire. He has long been a Currie ally, and continues to stand with Currie as his neighboring chair attempts to thwart the forces of South Jersey looking for North Jersey power incursions. Stellato might want to stick around to protect those northern strongholds he built.


Shaun Golden and Dave Brown

Brown, left.

Monmouth County GOP chairman (and Monmouth County Sheriff) Golden wants to put up some shiny numbers this year to be able to drive the narrative that the GOP is making gains in the Murphy years. He’s rumored to have his own gubernatorial aspirations. Monmouth County Democratic Committee Chairman Brown wants to hold serve in time for 2021, when he’ll have the double duty of

GOP Chairman Golden

shouldering a statewide Democratic candidate (presumably Murphy?) and state Senator Vin Gopal (D-11). So for Golden and Brown both this year the test really comes down to the 11th District, where Brown wants to reelect Assemblywoman Joann Downey and Assemblyman Eric Houtaling and Golden wants them gone. Bragging rights implications this year here? Monmouth is Governor Murphy’s home county (he lives in Middletown) so Golden and Brown both have a symbolic opportunity to make a statement on behalf of the state’s direction.

Somerset County GOP Chairman Al Gaburo, left, and Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D-17).

Peg Schaffer and Al Gaburo

The Somerset County Democratic Committee Chair can take over Somerset in the Trump era with a win on the freeholder board this year. The chair’s party organization is fielding former Green Brook Mayor Melonie Marano to take on veteran Republican incumbent Freeholder Pat Walsh. If Marano wins in


November, Schaffer’s party takes over in this longtime GOP stronghold. Republican Chairman Gaburo obviously wants Walsh to hold onto her seat. But that countywide race is complicated by a contest for sheriff, where Democrats have positioned Darrin Russo, a retired Franklin Twp. Police Lieutenant, and Gaburo-organization Republicans seek the election of North Plainfield Police Chief Bill Parenti. Before that, Parenti will have to get through a primary caused by game former Somerset County sheriff’s Officer Tim Pino. Then there is battleground LD16, where incumbent Assemblymen Andrew Zwicker and Roy Freiman will have to absorb a challenge from former Freeholder Mark Caliguire and former Montgomery Mayor Christine Madrid. Hunterdon Republican Robert Forest Locandro also wants a crack at the incumbent Democrats. What does it all mean? If Democrats take over Somerset county the most pressing question will be the obvious one:

Will they be South Jersey Democrats or Murphy Democrats?


George Gilmore

The veteran Ocean County GOP Chairman’s in court today. For more on that story, go here.


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