Ranking the 42 New Jersey County Party Chairs

Never will so many powerful people exhibit such fragility as when they read this list and call InsiderNJ to complain and voice displeasure at having to occupy spaces behind this or that rival.

But it’s so much fun!

  1. John Currie Passaic County Democrats

Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly tells a story about growing up in Paterson and gazing at the Hawthorne Chevrolet billboard that featured a picture of Currie, who was at that time a revered youth football coach in Silk City. That’s the kind of larger than life presence Currie had back then in Passaic, and still has for those in the political game – now projected statewide in Currie’s capacity as chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee. As the senior guy on the squad of northern chairmen, Currie last year led the effort to cohere support for Phil Murphy, the likely 2017 Democratic nominee for governor and favorite to win this year’s statewide election on the strength of Governor Chris Christie’s second term implosion and ravaging of the state Republican Party.

  1. Leroy Jones Essex County Democrats

Chair of the county with the most registered Democrats in the state of New Jersey, Jones starts the game of countywide politics with a very strong base in his home city of East Orange. When he backed Phil Murphy for governor last year, he made good on his prediction that the four northern counties would be united. Few believed him at the time, but Jones held true, joining Essex to Passaic, Hudson and Bergen behind the former Goldman Sachs executive.

  1. Kevin McCabe Middlesex County Democrats

He’s at the verge of jumping into the number one spot on the strength of his very early support for Murphy, and the very strong possibility that Assemblyman Craig Coughlin of Woodbridge will be the next speaker. McCabe is an artful political player, who keeps just close enough to South (through his connection with the Carpenters) and North Jersey maintain necessary relationships while preserving his own independence. Close to former Chairman John Lynch, Democratic Party minder Gary Taffet and Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac. Respected as a man of his word – rare in New Jersey politics.

  1. Vincent Prieto Hudson County Democrats

Time and again, the speaker of the General Assembly demonstrated relevance as he undertook fights with South Jersey over everything from state control of Atlantic City to North Jersey casinos to the state budget. He’s also chair of a Democratic Party in Hudson that wields total control (like Jones in Essex and McCabe in Middlesex) over county government.

  1. Lou Stellato Bergen County Democrats

What an extraordinary run Stellato has had overseeing the Democratic Party in New Jersey’s most populous county, wresting county control away from the GOP and all but nullifying Republican influence. Then there was last year’s Josh Gottheimer win over Scottt Garrett in CD5. An early backer of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop for governor, Stellato made the cut to Murphy along with his North Jersey colleagues once Murphy caused Fulop to tap out.

  1. George Gilmore Ocean County Republicans

Still the most powerful GOP chairman in the state of New Jersey, the Genghis Khan-like figure reconfigured the county in his own image. His power continues to gall other Republican chairs who often appear willing to create coalitions in an effort to weaken him, but until someone actually dethrones him, he remains the Great Khan of Republican Party politics in the state of New Jersey.

  1. Bill Layton Burlington County Republicans

A veteran of almost ten years now as chairman, Layton has maintained controlled of the freeholder board in choppy weather and picked up a congressman in Tom MacArthur who appears to have a knack for the game and a promising future in statewide politics, maybe as soon as the 2021 gubernatorial contest.

  1. Shaun Golden Monmouth County Republicans

Like every other chairman who simultaneously holds public office, Golden has his own headache-inducing challenges, but ultimately makes them work to his own political benefit. His LD11 assembly incumbents got dinged in 2015 and he faces a stiff challenge there again as state Senator Jen Beck attempts to stare down challenger Vin Gopal, but he still firmly controls the freeholder board in Monmouth.

  1. Al Gaburo Somerset County Republicans

In a battleground county, the savvy Raritan native makes the right backroom moves in each cycle to give his party organization the strongest possible footing for a fight. While he controls the freeholder board 5-0 and has strong statewide relationships and ties to other party chairs, Gaburo will have a tough fight on his hands this year in LD16.

  1. Jim Beach Camden County Democrats

The 6th District state senator from Voorhees doubles as the leader of a county organization that sits under the firm auspieces of George Norcross III, the state’s undisputed top power broker.

  1. Fred Madden Gloucester County Democrats

The veteran senator has belly of the beast connective tissue to the state’s top political figures, including GN3, and his own chairmanship in  the state senate as head of the labor committee.

  1. Jerry Green Union County Democrats

The venerable chairman has his hands full with party in-fighting and drama, and lacks the strong, cement-dry finish base enjoyed by other party chairs in his home town of Plainfield. But he’s respected and has good relations with other county chairs in the party, in addition to clout as a veteran state assemblyman.

  1. Keith Davis Atlantic County Republicans

He controls the county freeholder board and, with Assemblyman Chris Brown as a senate candidate this year, finds himself in a good position  after years of having to choke down reelection after reelection with by Democratic state Senator Jom whelan.

  1. Verlina Reynolds-Jackson Mercer County Democrats

The successor to legendary chairman the late Richard McClellan, Reynolds-Jackson doubles as a Trenton councilwoman. Under the watchful eye of U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, Reynold-Jackson oversees a Democratic Party in charge in Mercer.

  1. Pat Torpey Hunterdon County Republicans

There’s no real line in Hunterdon and an independent, anti-organizational strain that runs deep. But in a gleaming red county, Torpey is a veteran player with strong statewide ties and forceful Trenton tentacles.

  1. Marcus Karavan Cape May Republicans

No, he still doesn’t have that state senate seat and most face the the heartbreaking prospect of dredging up a challenger to the untouchable state Senator Jeff Van Drew. But Karavan still has a majority of Republicans on the freeholder board.

  1. Paul DiGaetano Bergen County Republicans

The Republican Party alpha male has been trying for years to get back to Trenton, where he served as assembly majority leader in the 1990s. Redistricted into oblivion, Paulie D. ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2004, gutted his way back from the wilderness with a victory in the chairman’s race last year and now plans to take his shot in the LD40 state senate Republican Primary. He is a very credible candidate, but after years of taking a beating in countywide races, the Bergen Gop is hardly in a strong place.

  1. Doug Steinhardt Warren County Republicans

Well connected attorney Steinhardt is a statewide player.

  1. Peg Schaffer Somerset County Democrats

The veteran chair and cracking lawyer doesn’t control anything in Somerset, but has strong ties in the party and is now the longest serving woman chair in the state of New Jersey.

  1. Jose Arango Hudson County Republicans

The GOP elder statesman (he’s a former assemblyman) serves as chair of the Republican chairs statewide.

  1. Gerry Scanlan Sussex County Republicans

There’s no line in Sussex, so essentially the chairman has no power. But Scanlan is apparently a great guy.

  1. Patti Page Morris County Republicans

There’s something about that adjective “acting” that doesn’t exactly radiate power, and that is where Page, filling in for the departed John Sette, finds herself at present while the Morris GOP reorganizes.

  1. Doug Long Cumberland County Democrats

Long has engine room reach to the GN3 bridge in South Jersey, which helps in terms of gettingthings done but also hinders in terms of him developing a stand-alone optical presence.

  1. Al Barlas Essex County Republicans

He has no oxygen in Essex – site of the most Democrats in the state of New Jersey – but Barlas, schooled in the furnaces of O’Toole world, knows his way around New Jersey politics.

  1. Glenn Mortimer Union County Republicans

By all accounts a sincerely nice guy, Mortimer has the twin towers of Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean and Assembly Minority Jon Bramnick to take care of business and run the backroom game while Mortimer runs the meetings. Zero freeholder power.

  1. Arlene Quinones Perez Hunterdon County Democrats

Endorsed Phil Murphy for Governor last year. A power player locally in Perth Amboy.  Connected statewide.

  1. David Brown Monmouth County Democrats

Didn’t he play quaterback for the New York Giants? Oh, that was a different David Brown.

  1. Wyatt Earp Ocean County Democrats

If we put this list together based on who has the most evocative name, Earp would win hands down. Alas, that is not this list.

  1. Lisa Richford Mercer County Republicans

She has the mayoralty in Hamilton (Kelly Yaede), which is no small thing. But otherwise it’s bleak.

  1. Lucille Panos Middlesex Republicans

Suffocated by Democratically controlled freeholders, the GOP here really just doesn’t wield any real power.

  1. Chip Robinson Morris County Democrats

A great guy. No power.

  1. Michael Testa Cumberland Republican Commitee

Testa is good at politics and smart as hell, but hasn’t shown a real desire to step out of the Cumberland time zone.

  1. John Traier Passaic County Republicans

He’s at the centerpiece of chaos right now with that collision between Paul DiGaetano and Kristin Corrado in LD40. Look for him to jump way up on this list if DiGaetano wins this year’s Republican Primary for state Senator Kevin O’Toole’s seat.

  1. Joe Andl Burlington County Democrats

Great guy. Check in on him next year, after Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Willingboro) becomes the LD7 senator. He’ll jump a couple of notches.

  1. Mike Suleiman Atlantic County Democrats

The party is in a good position to make a statement this year with the world watching the outcome of the LD2 general election.

  1. Jeff Sutherland Cape May Democrats

The Van Drew acolyte is staunchly loyal to the LD state senator (and apprently bears no relation to the actor Donald Sutherland).

  1. Richard Ambrosino Camden Republican Committee

He’s been around, he’s a player, but you don’t get on the tax board unless Norcross says so.

  1. Leslie Huhn Sussex County Democrats

Huhn is to Sussex what Ambrosino is to Camden.

  1. Jim Philbin Gloucester County Republicans

The Greenwich Township deputy mayor has the unenviable herculean task of laboring against the empire in Norcross-controlled South Jersey.

  1. Steven Caltabiano Salem Democrats

Salem. Is. Far. Down. There.

  1. Fran Grenier Salem Republicans

See No. 40, above.

  1. Warren County Democrats

They have a FaceBook page.

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