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On Monday, Governor Phil Murphy sat down with incoming Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman Paul Juliano.
It was a meeting that lasted a while.
A source said a few hours.
At a county committee convention on July 17th, he’s going to replace Lou Stellato, nominated by the governor to go to the Sports and Exposition Authority.
The longtime Democratic Party daimyo of the Florida of New Jersey, Stellato was a pal.
Certainly, he was usually a friend of Democratic State Committee Chairman John Currie, going back to the days when the neighboring (Currie also represents Passaic) chairs played football.
And Currie was Murphy’s guy.
With Stellato’s exit (these were guys just talking, a source insisted), could Murphy count on Juliano?
The governor and his minders wanted to gently buttonhole Juliano, get ahead of the game with him on several things – in a friendly way – including that simmering rivalry between Currie and a fledgling challenge to his statewide chairmanship in the form of Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones.
A source told InsiderNJ the sit-down came on the heels of another meeting Juliano had with either U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) or Pascrell reps.
The big veteran name in North Jersey political circles, Pascrell is looking ahead to a potentially annoying Democratic Primary from environmental activist Zina Spezakis. A source said she isn’t a Currie person, but could be an ally of the Passaic chair if the Pascrell-Currie fight rages into 2020.
Pascrell not in a cold sweat over a primary yet, and he’s fought with Currie in the past and they’ve subsequently healed, but he has to know where everyone stands.
Juliano told the veteran congressman that he could count on getting the party line in Bergen next year.
Put it in stone.
That helped, Pascrell thought, that kind of commitment, because he and Currie have been fighting countywide in Passaic, a feud that busted open when the Passaic County Freeholder Board gave the heave ho to Pascrell’s son, the former county counsel.
It had gotten a little ugly and uncomfortable.
Juliano digging in with him in the big, Bergen portion of the 9th District was heartening – and important.
And not altogether surprising.
Pascrell had that kind of street cred.
But it was nice to hear.
Did that parochial firefight – with Pascrell fiercely at odds with Currie – spill into Juliano’s statewide consideration of the dimensions of the state chair's fight?
If Bill doesn’t like John, and I’m with Bill…
Murphy and his minders had to have wanted to know.
Juliano, a source said, was coy.
Other sources interpreted the meeting differently.
But a source with intimate knowledge insisted he didn’t make any Shermanesque statements.
Not chair yet.
Doesn’t want to back himself into a corner.
Could he commit to Currie?
No, he couldn’t.
Could he commit to Jones?
What was his angle?
Was he looking to make nice – early – with Middlesex, home of the Speaker of the Assembly, Craig Coughin, whose chairman made the trek into New York earlier this month for a fundraiser for Juliano’s rising star senator, Joe Lagana?
Did he have his eye on someone else as chair?
Other names have kicked around as potential compromises, in the event that Jones doesn’t end up as the preferred candidate of the party establishment otherwise known as the South Jersey Democratic Brain Trust. If South Jersey gets so banged up by the EDA scandal that the party has to go in another direction, the party could hit the eject button on Jones. Too close to Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and South Jersey Power Broker George Norcross III, whose henchmen tag teamed on throwing his name out there as a Currie alternative, mostly to spite Murphy and limit his power.
Insiders have mentioned Ocean County Democratic Committee Chairman Wyatt Earp as a friendly alternative to the Currie v. Jones fiasco.
But Jones is still the favorite.
Again, some of this hinges on Trenton developments and subpoenas and such.
Murphy and his allies want Juliano to be with Currie.
They probably figured if Stellato had signed on the guy, he’d be a lot like Stellato.
And Stellato liked Currie, and recognized the likelihood of giving South Jersey an upper-hand if he didn’t stick with Currie and Murphy, though it was at times very uncomfortable, like when Murphy’s people floated Adam Alonso as his successor.
That was a headache for Lou.
But Juliano wouldn’t sign anything in blood.
The timing of the meeting intrigued.
As Murphy looks at making cuts to the budget in time to make Monday’s deadline, most insiders anticipate his ax dropping on South Jersey first, of course, and maybe Middlesex.
“From Salem to Middlesex,” suggested a source.
Perhaps a Turtle Back Zoo line item finds itself under the guillotine.
Juliano was coy, a source insisted amid chatter about his specific intentions.
Showing his hand could mean powerful push back.
Punishment from the front office.
Threats – even if they weren’t all spoken – hung in the air at the meeting (amid all the friendliness) if Juliano went in another direction.
Then again, Bergen’s notoriously individuated.
Ever since the Ferriero days.
- Bergen County Democrats
- Bill Pascrell
- Craig Coughlin
- Essex County Democrats
- George Norcross
- Joe DiVincenzo
- Joe Ferriero
- Joe Lagana
- John Currie
- Leroy Jones
- Lou Stellato
- Middlesex County Democrats
- NJ Democrats
- NJ Sports and Exposition Authority
- Ocean County Democrats
- Passaic County Democrats
- Paul Juliano
- Phil Murphy
- Wyatt Earp
- Zina Spezakis
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