It’s brutal, or getting there.
U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7)-targeting Democrats want to endorse a candidate in CD7 but an intra-party fight in Union County – with deeply entrenched players with designs on local and county control – has divided them at the heart of the larger political theater.
As Union fought with itself and showed little sign of resolution with time ticking now on the 2018 cycle amid signs of Republican vulnerability, operatives in other county looked on with increasing agitation.
This is a longstanding fight, which goes back to the worst collisions between former Senator Ray Lesniak and Senator Joe Cryan (D-20), who yesterday took the oath of office. Lion Lesniak’s retirement left many politics watchers to conclude that the politically combative and effective Cryan would simply remake the county in his image, but sources say the newly minted senator underestimated Senator Nick Scutari’s (D-22) own hunger to control Union – and the depth of some of Scutari’s overlapping relationships with Lesniak’s longstanding political creations.
Partly in an effort to maintain the kingdom and keep it out of Cryan’s hands, Scutari wants to supplant sitting Union County Manager Al Faella (who’s close to Lesniak pal Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage) with his chief-of-staff, Ed Oatman, while providing a drop-zone for Lesniak’s chief of staff, Tony Teixeira, to take over for Oatman in the management of his own office.
Bottom line: Oatman as county manager would give Scutari the government clout he craves, and block the always aggressive former County Sheriff Cryan.
Then there’s the straight-up political side, and what’s happening in the Union County Democratic Organization, where Chairman Jerry Green (who doubles as a District 22 Assemblyman) this month continued to be absent from political events. Green missed Election Night festivities, the county reorganization, and yesterday’s War Memorial ceremony, where his colleagues reaffirmed him as speaker pro tempore. Sources say the chairman is ill, but his confidants insist it’s not terminal. In his absence, Executive Director Nick Fixmer has played a more visible role as point person for the county party organization.
Fixmer is the Parktowne Associates business partner of Oatman – Scutari’s right-hand man.
That has significance in large part because in line to be the next county party chair is Vice Chair Colleen Mahr, the mayor of Fanwood – Cryan’s stout ally. In the event that Green’s illness or absence impairs his ability to serve as chairman, organization bylaws give Mahr rights to the job. There’s history there. Lesniak and Green helped derail Mahr’s candidacy for an LD22 Assembly seat three years ago, again largely to keep the choke hold on Cryan.
Cryan subsequently developed a greater affinity for Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp, Green’s longtime local rival.
Presumably, Scutari, Oatman and Fixmer don’t want Mahr empowered.
With control of the county is at stake, Mahr empowered equals Cryan empowered.
So Fixmer remains the go-to guy for the organization, even as questions begin to intensify about Green. To the executive director’s sympathizers, he’s simply doing what any loyal ally would do: filling in for the boss during the boss’ period of reduced activity, which in this case will come to an end when Green gets back in the saddle. But to others, it’s more than that, deeper, and within that context now, Democrats in Union, which represents a significant portion of the 7th Congressional District, vainly tried this week to align behind a single candidate.
Cryan is said to prefer banker Linda Weber of Berkley Heights, who impresses onlookers with her rootedness but is said to require more policy boot camp. Sources say Fixmer has been making the case behind-the-scenes for neutrality – and – in the past number of weeks – delay, partly in the interest of serving the will of a neutral-minded Green, even as multiple sources say Fixmer prefers the candidacy of Tom Malinowski, a former state department officials who just moved into the district but wows crowds with his foreign policy chops.
The Cryan and Fixmer camps fought harder in the course of the last number of hours, as other candidates or their surrogates expressed worry about the county committee endorsement process, suggesting that with Green out of the picture, Fixmer, at the very least, is too close to Malinowski to be able to oversee an even-handed accounting of all the players. The executive director shepherded Malinowski around in Atlantic City and could be seen with him at other events. Several sources – both municipal and county chairs – told InsiderNJ that Fixmer actually works for Malinowski. InsiderNJ in a text message asked the ED if he has taken money from the candidate, and he denied it.
“We haven’t signed him as a client, but I am interested in doing so in the future,” Fixmer said, referring to Parktowne. “I have given him some advice and I have introduced him to some people.
“Neither I nor Parktowne have taken any money from Malinowski,” he noted.
On January 7th, Malinowski sent out an email to his followers, which read in part:
“I’m writing to invite you to a meeting we’re having with Union County municipal chairs at 5:30 PM on January 12th. We’ll be meeting at the home of George Devanney… I’d like to introduce everyone to my full team — to our new campaign manager, Colston Reid, as well as our media and polling advisors — so that we can brief you together on our plans going forward, and get your advice on what it will take to win CD7…”
Malinowski’s rivals seethed over the perception that his relationship – at the very least – with Fixmer gives him – a nationally-connected outsider who just moved to the 7th – an edge, even as no one who tried could reach the absent Green. The assemblyman’s allies insisted that the other candidates in the contest have the same capacity as Malinowski to get in front of municipal chairs. They note too that last year, the party didn’t pick its slate until Feb. 21st.
Amid the hubbub about his campaign and his relationship with Fixmer, InsiderNJ this past Sunday asked Malinowski who’s running the operation for him.
“Colston Reid,” he said, pointing to his campaign manager in the crowd.
Earlier today, Weber stepped up efforts to get the attention and cement the backing of county committee members, while a third candidate David Pringle, tried in vain to get in touch with Green and/or his surrogates.
A candidates forum is scheduled for the 7th of next month.