Off-Line Holley Tries to Target Cryan’s Democratic Primary Soft Underbelly

Holley and Carr

ROSELLE – Seldom has an election year passed without LD20 offering its own version of mayhem. The Elizabeth Board of Education used to gnaw at the heels of power over here, almost winning off the line once in 2011.

State Senator Joe Cryan stared down a county committee challenge in his backyard to hold onto the chairmanship of the Union Township Democratic Committee, a position he has held since 1996.
State Senator Joe Cryan


That was the same year then-Assemblyman Joe Cryan essentially proved his Essex County-tavern sawdust mettle in his local stronghold, and gunny-sacked his double knee replacement surgery sidelined running mate to victory on the strength of Union Township turnout numbers.

A lot happened between then and now, including Cryan spring-boarding to the senate after Ray Lesniak retired, and the Democrat with law enforcement roots absorbing Lesniak acolyte Jamel Holley onto his team as the new assemblyman.

Maybe inevitably, some bad blood with Lesniak spilled into Cryan’s relationship with Holley. They never really liked each other, and it showed.

Lesniak and Cryan had come out of different political throne rooms, too, but they managed not to totally derail in each other’s presence, and gruntingly each made himself useful to the other, even finding a way to manage – albeit through gritted teeth – the occasional public compliment.

Holley and Cryan got entangled early and often, with the assemblyman using some incendiary language to characterize his slate mate and Cryan basically grimacing in agony. In a countywide Democratic Party war for the chairmanship, Holley sided with eventual winner state Senator Nick Scutari (D-22), but somehow, by the time 2021 rolled around, the assemblyman found himself outside the Scutari-Cryan political social circle, dumped off the hallowed party line and in a visceral fight to stay politically alive.

Cryan’s allies would likely argue with the word “fight.”

In this Democratic Primary for Cryan’s senate seat, the incumbent has essentially dented and re-dented his opponent by emphasizing his fellow Democrat’s refusal to support the vaccine bill, and playing to the 101.5 FM crowd, the last desperate refuge of a Lesniak-Scutari deprived ally.

Holley, and Gwen Carr.
Holley, and Gwen Carr.


Planted behind a podium in front of Town Hall, Holley today swung back by making the case that the senator – son of a sheriff and himself a former sheriff – can’t make a public comment on – let alone grip a pencil long enough to affirm – Assembly Bill 4284, which establishes the crime of strangulation chokehold, applicable to various law enforcement personnel. Under the bill, enumerated law enforcement personnel commit strangulation chokehold when, with intent to impede the normal breathing or circulation of the blood of another person he blocks the nose or mouth, or uses any procedure known as a chokehold, which results in serious bodily injury or death.  Strangulation chokehold is classified as a crime of the first degree, ordinarily punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment, a fine up to $200,000, or both.

“There’s a void in the state senate, where oftentimes bills are killed,” said Holley. “The chokehold bill passed in the assembly. My opponent is silent. Nothing. Dead.”

At the assemblyman’s side stood Gwen Carr of New York, the mother of the late Eric Garner, killed in police custody by a chokehold.

“We want someone to support the bill,” she said. “We don’t need police officers coming into our area brutalizing and terrorizing. We need a person who understands that we can’t be scared of being out.”

On June 5, 2020, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General issued notice that it will ban police departments from using chokeholds, carotid artery neck restraints, or similar tactics, except where deadly force is necessary.  The revision clarifies and tightens longstanding policy on the use of this kind of force by law enforcement.

Under the bill, “chokehold” includes but is not limited to, any pressure of the throat or windpipe which may prevent or hinder breathing or reduce intake of air.

Contrary to Holley’s characterization of the A-4284, the bill hasn’t actually moved out of the Assembly. Like other police brutality reform bills, including one that would enable the creation of a civilian complaint review board, it remains stalled in an election year in which battleground Democrats want to deprive the GOP of all oxygen in the general by playing nice with police; while making it appear, to a devitalized progressive wing of the party – that they’re busy behind the scenes on real reforms in the lead up to June 8th.

Notwithstanding the sincerity of Gwen Carr’s support for Holley, the lethargy on progressive issues of a Machiavellian legislature, and the merits of anti police brutality measures, the senate challenger’s reliance on the anti-vaccine crowd not only fed into Cryan’s antagonism by giving Scutari a reason to get Holley off the line, but made it difficult to produce enough traction to make Cryan break into the same cold sweat provoked by the once-totally menacing off-the-party-line Elizabeth Board of Education.

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