Mammoth Middlesex stands at the doorstep of genteel little Somerset like a Bladerunner setpiece, too menacing for the same county that once catapulted Christie Todd Whitman to the governorship from the freeholder board and graced the state with the considerable generosity of Doris Dukes.
Unable to bear the thought of Middlesex buffaloing them into backing a non-resident to sit in the chair of upper legislative power, the Somerset County Democratic Committee is poised to back economics professor/businessman and Vice Chairman Zenon Christodoulou for the senate seat in LD16.
A source told InsiderNJ that Somerset Committee Chair Peg Schaffer had preferred to work with Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16) and embrace his relocation to a Somerset town in the name of preserving a Somerset-based person to supplant retiring state Senator Kip Bateman (R-16).
But Zwicker wouldn’t move, leaving Schaffer with no choice but to turn to her long-time ally Christodoulou as Somerset prepares for a primary with the Middlesex-backed Zwicker.
The Somerset portion of the district contains 41% of the total Democratic vote in LD16, compared to 23% for Middlesex in a district that also includes pieces of Mercer (Princeton, or 18%) and Hunterdon (18%).
“History is a big part of it,” Schaffer told InsiderNJ earlier this month. “Somerset has had the seat for 100 years. We need an advocate for uniquely Somerset issues, including transportation, one-seat ride, judges the Highlands. Also, we’ve earned a seat at the table. If we allowed another county to claim the senator, that person’s first loyalty would be to the other county.”
The stand-off contains larger implications, as the governor’s office sees an opportunity to weaken South Jersey’s longstanding grip on senate power by giving Middlesex a sixth senator (five Dems plus Republican Senator Sam Thompson), and potentially creating leverage for a 2021 power shift away from state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).
Schaffer, a source told InsiderNJ, refused to annex Somerset to neighboring behemoth Middlesex.
A politically connected fundraiser with deep roots in New Jersey’s Greek community, Christodoulou for years has hovered at the verge of running for public office but has always stopped short. The source tonight said he – and members of the Somerset Democratic Committee Screening Committee – do have the warpaint on him for him this time, and are ready to nudge him into the ring with Zwicker.
“They haven’t fought all these years just so Middlesex can come in here and dictate,” the source told InsiderNJ, referring to Somerset Democrats and their stake in the direction of the party.
Still, Zwicker, a Princeton plasma physicist, hardly radiates Middlesex party robotics. Christodoulou, in other words, would be going up against an individual who happens to have the backing of the Middlesex Democratic Organization, just as Zwicker would have in his sights a party player with a very diversified and hardly rigidly controlled political base of operations.
Suffering at least a 16,000 registration deficit, the GOP has positioned former U.S. Rep. Mike Pappas as its candidate to challenge the winner of a Democratic Primary.