The night after President Donald J. Trump delivered his State of the Union address, they looked into one another’s faces at the Union County Democratic Committee meeting in Ferraro’s in Westfield and summoned an emotion stranger than the usual mere competitive cattiness.
In the case of some of the players for whom the tablecloths and décor did little more than cloak those feelings, it was something closer to deepening horror.
People who were supposed to be back-slapping pals had turned out to be craven Iagos.
Hand shakes in years past had proved of little value.
A fight between Acting Union County Chair Colleen Mahr and Senator Nick Scutari (D-22) for the Union Dems’ chairmanship raged countywide, and the Democrats found themselves now thrust into close proximity – and it was – to say the least – uncomfortable.
Plainfield serving as the most obvious flashpoint, where supporters who had backed Mayor Adrian Mapp, bucked him hard now over his personal endorsement – without their consent – of Scutari. It was the base of his New Democrats, shaken by what they sniffed out as a the mayor’s quest for Trenton. In less than a week, Mapp had lost his chief of staff, apparently the county party fight turning him into human silly putty. The mayor also lost his city administrator, which he insisted was not the consequence of politics. Then on Thursday, the city personnel director found the door.
“His staff has been resigning because as of yesterday he had not renewed/reinstated his cabinet in hopes of moving to the assembly [on the strength of his endorsement of Scutari],” a source told InsiderNJ, which Mapp vigorously disputes.
There was also a wing of the New Democrats – who occupied the bulk of the same local Democratic Committee that presumably was supposed to fall in behind the mayor to back Scutari – which remembered how Mahr worked with Mapp. There was a bond there, they insisted. And yet, a source close to the mayor explained, Mapp and the New Dems felt slightly burned by Mahr’s ally, state Senator Joe Cryan (D-20), when the mayor ran out there in 2016 and backed Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop for Governor, perhaps with the expectation of Cryan likewise offering his voice in the face of what at that time was a fast rising wave for eventual winner Phil Murphy.
“There are people who think Fulop’s allies stood back while Adrian and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka put their necks on the line for Fulop,” said the source, making the gentle case for how Mapp decided to back Scutari over Mahr because Cryan hadn’t backed him up on the Fulop.
Whatever it was, Mapp had political troubles in Plainfield.
If he ever thought his support for LD22 powerbroker Scutari would seamlessly put him in position to assist an ailing Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-22), who for years rule the Queen City from his legislative perch (in an inverse relationship to the city’s mayor as the assembly people of Hudson, who depend on the mayors for their political sustenance), he now had a full dose of turmoil on his hands.
The personnel director departure stung, and, by the reasoning of one source, exposed the mayor’s escape plan from city hall. The cabinet was leaving because they knew Mapp was leaving. Period.
Mapp insisted the hurricane running into a tsunami engulfed in a tornado, had nothing to do with politics.
“Ugh,” a source groaned as he watched the personnel director shove off.
It rankled those in Scutari world.
The senator, of course, wouldn’t back off of Mapp. He needed him. His whole strategy for victory depended on adding Plainfield to what he has in Elizabeth and Linden to suffocate with the county’s cities Mahr’s smaller suburban base. Sensing a less than locked down Plainfield, the senator joined Mapp earlier this week for door pounding in Mapp’s hometown.
Tomorrow, Saturday, the Plainfield Democratic Committee had a scheduled morning meeting to sort through the mangled week and reach, according to the mayor, consensus on a way forward.
As that was all going on, Hillside Democratic Committee Chairman Anthony Salters announced his candidacy for the chairmanship of the county.
Scutari was an elected official.
Mahr (mayor of Fanwood) was an elected official.
The chair shouldn’t be an elected official, Salters argued.
“Ehh,” a source moaned to InsiderNJ, dismissing Salters’ move as an ego driven stunt. “The guy wants his name in the paper.”
But others agreed that Salters – who partnered with Cryan on the Hillside mayor’s race last year – had entered the contest as a stalking horse for Mahr, and would either drag urban votes away from Scutari (further breaking up the agitated Plainfield) or bow out late and back Mahr.
If the race was suburbs (Mahr) versus cities (Scutari), Salters would confuse Scutari’s base, the argument ran.
There was another dimension to Salters, a key ally for Cryan as the senator sizes up his political future in LD20. Based on their collisions locally last year, Cryan and Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20) appear inevitably headed for a 2021 primary, unless Cryan gets rid of Holley in 2019.
Holley was on the losing (just barely) side of the mayor’s race last year in Hillside, while Cryan (just barely) basked with Salters. The assemblyman also lost both council races and the school board race. Now Holley stands with Scutari, while Cryan (although he hasn’t issued a formal endorsement) backs old political pal Mahr. Every fight now divides Cryan and Holley as they try to position themselves for a final showdown, with Holley either running from the perch of his current office, or running to get back into the Legislature with a senate challenge in the event that Cryan relieves him of duty sooner.
If Scutari prevails against Mahr, Holley will have somewhat regained his political equilibrium after the sting of his Hillside loss. The chairman’s fight also teases an opportunity for the assemblyman to team up with Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, who sides with Scutari against Mahr/Cryan. The local Democratic Chairman in Elizabeth – the biggest municipality in LD20 – is Scutari’s new chief of staff.
Scutari’s former chief of staff?
A week ago the county freeholder board made Ed Oatman the county manager, another hive fiving moment for the senator from LInden and his backers.
But back to the meeting at Ferraro’s.
A win for Scutari.
But as Mapp flailed locally, the Mahr faction thumped their chests in Wednesday evening’s aftermath, noting that Scutari failed in a bid to get the 60% he needed to get her out of the acting chairmanship on the spot.
“It’s close,” a source close to the action told InsiderNJ.
The room of 27-28 people – all local municipal chairs – was split in half.
“They had a bad night,” a Mahr ally told InsiderNJ, referring to the Scutari side.
Yet the senator’s allies remained very optimistic about Scutari’s chances.
Unless his people all get sick on Feb. 21st (the scheduled date for the Mahr-Scutari showdown in the Gran Centurion), he wins, they insist.
“The numbers just aren’t there for Colleen,” a source argued.
Plainfield was unresolved, yes.
If indeed it was as close as the vote that settled on the Feb. 21st date indicated, getting Plainfield in order appeared to be a critical Scutari priority.
Coming off door to door exercises with Scutari, Mapp insisted on the fairness of the process. Everyone would have a chance to speak about the chairmanship at the Plainfield Democrats’ Saturday meeting, he said.
Still, Scutari faced a mutiny by Mayor Derek Armstead in their hometown of Linden.
At war with Scutari at the local level, Armstead jumped in the contest as Mahr’s vice chair candidate.
Armstead’s up this year.
His endorsement of Mahr and decision to run against Scutari will necessitate payback.
But he’s so insignificant, the source told InsiderNJ, that they haven’t even thought about exacting revenge.
“We’ll deal with him after the chairman’s fight,” a source told InsiderNJ, referring to the coming local election in Linden.
The chair’s fight was where it was at right now, as even Governor Phil Murphy’s cabinet picks cooled their heels, their individual senate hearings on ice until Scutari – powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee – first held court in Union.