It was a midway point between elections and that could mean only one thing: it was time for the New Jersey Democratic Party to go to war – with itself.
The trick – and this was always the trick – was to satisfy that reptilian part of the brain that craved politics as a substitute for war – without expending any real capital or energy.
Hence, Chip Robinson became the target.
He never hurt anyone.
In New Jersey politics, especially when it comes to the rules laid down by the party in charge – that condition becomes synonymous with getting hurt.
So Robinson seemingly found himself hurt last week.
Ostensibly because the party could hurt him, writing him into the script as the latest red-shirted landing party recon member, and cruise into the weekend without fear of reprisal.
The establishment’s apparent move on him was the 2022 equivalent of that senate committee a couple years back shaking the entire state upside down to produce a convenient “headline-grabbing” victim, in that case the Warren County Democratic Committee chairman.
Robinson didn’t offend.
Thus, he could receive offense in the form of a fatal political encounter.
Of course, existing party fractures – on hiatus during last year’s election only to restart like an out of control weed whacker after voters gave Steve Sweeney the heave-ho from office – triggered finger pointing, scandalous, and moral rampages looks all over the state.
“They want diversity in the party? What about Anthony Vainieri as the successor to Amy DeGise in Hudson?” an insider seethed, implying cowardice on the part of a party that looks the other way when the Hudson County Democratic Organization elevates a white male under cover of darkness one minute, then – in the name of rounding out the appearance of universality – beams down and gangs up on Robinson in leafy Morris the next.
Of course, the still-shivering allies of Sweeney (and George Norcross III) wanted to blame Democratic State Party Chairman LeRoy Jones. Ever since Jones dumped Sweeney off the back of the redistricting truck they’ve been trying to turn Jones into the second coming of John Currie.
Namely, a target.
“They mishandled this,” a second source fumed, likening the entire exercise of removing Robinson to a big game hunt gone wrong, when the quarry ends up trailing a blood spoor into the tall grass meaning that hunting party casualties will inevitably occur.
But Amalia Duarte has the edge for the seat.
Should have been absolutely locked down for her, a source raged.
Look at Dover.
Look at Parsippany.
Well, ok, but it looked close to being done.
Jones, Phil Murphy Chief of Staff George Helmy and U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11) wanted it this way.
Serving as chairman for nearly ten years, Robinson experienced some stumbles lately, including last year’s poor results and some bucking bronco antics over one of his allies saying something negative about former Governor (and sitting Senator) Dick Codey.
Sherrill and her allies apparently wanted a stronger, fresher chair as she heads toward her 2022 general reelection bid, and in defiance of the stretcher bearers’ called in for him, Robinson is said to have been burned out, and looking for an exit, hoping the establishment lent a hand from the hell the job had become.
But it went deeper – or might have.
Everything now gets factored into the 2025 lens.
Sources say Jones – and others in the North Jersey Democratic Party establishment – like Sherrill as a 2025 gubernatorial candidate and successor to Governor Murphy.
The perception of the state party chairman putting his thumb on Morris – or inserting a probing index finer into Morris – and securing Morris in addition to Essex (presumably) for his gubernatorial preference, sent carloads of operatives into high gossip gear.
In addition, Sweeney and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop were said to have started hitting the phones hard after Robinson’s disintegration.
Middlesex got perked up.
If Chairman Kevin McCabe wants to propel Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) or Senator Vin Gopal (D-11) toward governor (or the consolation prize of senate president, in the case of the latter), he needs to exercise high alert around Jones diving deeper into Morris – or so said the cognoscenti.
Robinson getting carried out on a stretcher – even if that’s the R and R he felt he needed – represented the first hard domino falling ahead of 2025.
There was talk of Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie perhaps retiring soon.
He’d done his time in the trenches.
Who would succeed him to shore up Passaic?
As Fulop made phone calls, and Sweeney made the rounds, and Coughlin and Gopal kept their names out there, Jones was making moves of his own, sources said.
Of course, those same sources assume that Sherrill wouldn’t have gotten Morris anyway with Robinson as chairman.
In any event, amid considerable growing intrigue, which used the expiration of Chip Robinson as the starting point on the Democratic Primary for Governor, two congress people stepped forward to affirm Duarte, thereby presumably reflecting done deal dynamics or deflating the possibility of a serious challenger emerging.
From that release:
Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) and Congressman Tom Malinowski (NJ-7) today endorsed Mendham Township Committeewoman Amalia Duarte for Morris County Democratic Committee (MCDC) Chair:
“We are thrilled to endorse Amalia Duarte to serve as the next Morris County Democratic Committee Chair, a proven leader who would make history as the first woman and first Latina to lead MCDC. Amalia knows the importance of focusing on local issues, is accessible to residents, and works to bring people together. She is already training the next generation of leaders and growing our bench in Morris County as the Chair of the MCDC Electeds Caucus. Her commitment to supporting a diverse slate of candidates for office at all levels, increasing fundraising, and her strategic vision make her the right candidate for this position.
“Amalia knows how to win tough races. We look forward to continuing our work with MCDC to turn Morris County blue.”
Robinson, it is said, and to the point that instead of getting bullied, he actually got what he wanted, received a soft landing somewhere, courtesy of the Murphy universe, along with the appearance of a big, appreciative send-off, even as that lone domino falling signaled coming party fights, or more avoidance of coming fights in the name of championing diversity here, while shrugging off the intoxicating nectar of patronage, nepotism and male dominance there; as those who last held that banner aloft, now bitterly decried the waving of it without them.
Somewhere, Jack Ciattarelli’s allies – laughing like hell – were telling him, “Look at this,” as someone among the ranks of irritated off-season Democratic Party players contemplated the implications of defecting transactionally to the GOP, as Jones’ allies stood by the event with pride. By the end of it, Robinson, a source said, was relieved to have been relieved.