Where the Web of Redistricting Relentlessly Tugs

Jones within ear-nibbling range of Murphy last month.

Politics eventually pushes everyone into the meat grinder. Some buy it on Election Day. Others hobble into a federal courthouse in leg-irons. Some run out of time. And some – or two or one – find themselves barred from reentering office on the other side of redistricting, and thus, quietly guillotined out of political existence.

Ten years ago, as they scrambled to sacrifice a white male in order to satisfy the demands of a so-called “majority minority district,” and assessed powerful state Senators Nick Sacco (Italian American) and Brian Stack (Irish American) as untouchable, Democrats offered up state Senator John Girgenti as their supposedly expendable generic white dude of choice. “He’s our lone casualty,” a Democrat told InsiderNJ moments before the late Alan Rosenthal, tiebreaking redistricting commission member, selected the Democrats’ map.


On Monday, complying with sitting redistricting tiebreaker Philip Carchman’s request, the Republican and Democratic teams each supplied its own configuration of New Jersey’s 40 districts, as a starting point for the process of establishing a single legislative district map for the next ten years. In charge on the basis of having won the map ten years ago and enjoying a million-person registration advantage over the GOP, the Democrats are mostly playing defense this year, while Republicans, down senators (24-16) and assembly people (46-34) appear emboldened by a stronger than expected ballot showing in 2021 (Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli lost by a mere three points to Democratic Governor Phil Murphy; as Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and his slate went down in defeat to Republican challenger Ed Durr and the GOP prevailed in battleground 2 and 8) to seize territory with a new map that gives them a chance to build on their momentum and recover ground lost over the last two decades.

The maps, examined here by InsiderNJ columnist Fred Snowflack, present various possible scenarios that make casualties of certain incumbents for the purposes of strengthening the respective submitting party.

The maps’ appearance sent a tremor of terror through those members unveiled as prospective casualties, as the Republican map pits Democrats against Democrats in order to create openings for Republicans, and the Democratic map mostly protects its own while positing a place here or there to deoxygenate Republicans. As insiders examined the teams’ early efforts, they tried to convince their impacted apoplectic allies in the assembly and senate that these are only very preliminary maps, furnished so Carchman has a starting point. They will no doubt change over the course of the redistricting process.

Still, questions came out of the darkness.

“Will I be the next Kip Bateman?”

It was the Democrats’ winning 2011 map that removed Bateman’s anchor town of Bridgewater from the 16th District, thereby making it difficult for the Republican to survive. He did, but ultimately retired, just ahead of 2021(2) redistricting, rather than run in a district increasingly Democratic (propelled into the arms of the opposition with greater force during the Trump years).

“Will I be the next Girgenti?”

The winning Democratic map outright sacrificed him, removing his town of Hawthorne from the LD35 mother ship of neighboring Paterson and sending him into immediate retirement.

Who will be the instantaneous casualty?

Who will be forced to walk a long and tormented plank?

As the party in charge again attempts to gain the upper-hand on the GOP, the bad news for Democrats is they look more fractured than last time, in an ongoing fistfight roughly defined as North versus South Jersey. The good news for North Jersey Dems is Republican voters in South Jersey arguably already did their dirty work for them when they tossed former Senate President Sweeney out of office, thereby enabling them to hit the eject button on Sweeney as a redistricting commissioner, and (at least in the earliest iteration of the map), bump his hometown out of the 3rd legislative district.

Here’s our white male this time, judge, already conveniently DOA.

If Republicans, for their part, submitted an ambitious first effort (with districts 4, 14 and 11 all targets), arguably overreaching presumably to force Democrats to negotiate a deal, the D’s offered what one source described as a throwaway first map to buy time to fulfill their main goal: protecting incumbents in order to protect their comfortable majorities in the senate and assembly.

At the same time, it must be believed that Sweeney – connected to that shriveling former monster once

Former Senate President Sweeney (D-3)

known as the South Jersey Democratic Machine – wants his bitter rival, Democratic State Party Chairman (and redistricting commission co-chair) LeRoy Jones of Essex County, who personally booted Sweeney off the commission; to lose the map to the GOP, so Sweeney can make the case that Democrats can’t operate without him and South Jersey. “See, this is what happens when South Jersey lacks a seat at the table,” is what Sweeney – or his allies – presumably want to be able to say when the dust clears.

But Jones and his allies, alert to the potential of that humiliating outcome, conceivably have a play to isolate Sweeney by letting the district stay submerged in voter-designating red, while simultaneously empowering other South Jersey allies, namely newly emergent Democratic Party power base Burlington.

How do you make South Jersey underlings forget about Sweeney?

You empower South Jersey underlings.

They don’t have to work for a senator anymore. They can be a senator.

Assemblywoman Carol Murphy: "This bill is to strictly give a borrowing option to the administration."
Assemblywoman Murphy (D-8)

Thus, Burlington sources in the party found a lot to like early in Burlington, where ongoing backroom discussions convince them of the possibility of putting sitting Republican Senator Jean Stanfield (R-8) on the losing end of a collision course with state Senator Troy Singleton (D-7); while promoting Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D-8) to Stanfield’s seat.

Who’s going to throw himself in front of a train to save Sweeney if it means short-circuiting actual family?

That’s one interpretation, but again, it’s early.

Too early.

Intrigue abounded this week.

Sweat poured.

Just in case Democrats need another casualty, they have Sweeney ally state Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) in Bergen County, a source said deviously. If they get into another jam up in the nexus of Bergen/Hudson/Essex and need to hit a Girgenti panic button, Sarlo – long suctioned to South Jersey and hardly chummy with sitting Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman Paul Juliano – could fit the bill.

Bergen, weak, would take the hit. Middlesex, strong, wouldn’t.

These were the kinds of remarks bouncing around the insider echo chamber.

Senate Lion: LD27 Senator Dick Codey talks about NJEDA tax incentive programs
Senator Codey (D-27)

Then there was state Senator Dick Codey (D-27).

Sources frantically tried to determine the meaning of Irvington moved into his district on the Democratic map.

Was this Jones’ (who doubles as Essex County Democratic Committee chairman) way of telling Codey his career was over?

Sweeney eliminated merely opened an opportunity to go after someone else and thus use redistricting to gently get rid of another overdue white male, or so ran the conventional wisdom. But it wasn’t true, or didn’t seem to be anyway among sources connected to the process. Just as Codey, for example, had looked like a casualty in 2011 when an early map put him into a gladiatorial games posture with his ally, state Senator Ronald L. Rice; or a later tease featured then state Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) mashed into state Senator Joe Vitale (D-19), the configurations on Monday presented nothing more than a rush job to fulfill some of Carchman’s initial expectations. And if that wasn’t true, couldn’t Stanfield take some measure of relief herself?

Relief, yes.

But everyone – or many – had to be on guard.

If the Republicans appeared ready to put all their chips on the table and go for broke, Jones looked to be playing coy, with only a single card discarded to the exclusion of the others he retained, and that card played by the Republicans in the 3rd District, giving him the opening he needed to finish the job when he removed Sweeney from the commission.

Amid rumors of the former senate president hanging around McLoone’s Boathouse, Jones, it should be noted, also had the advantage of sitting across the redistricting table from co-chair Al Barlas, leader of the Republican redistricting cause, who would have to be careful about irritating his Democratic counterpart in the county with the biggest plurality of Democrats. “Barlas won’t go all the way in the bag for the South,” a source told InsiderNJ. Plus, Essex County Executive Joe Divincenzo – once South Jersey Democrats’ most reliable North Jersey cohort, is up for reelection this year, and doesn’t want to annoy Jones.

Long accustomed to gazing South for orders, the counties in the ruling party now looked to Essex and the North – for inspiration? – no: merely the delicate new regime playing of a hand, ultimately for the purpose of consolidated incumbent power, minus a few distractions; as the GOP tried to capitalize on those rifts in a seeming aggressive opening salvo, while also conscious of the South to North power shift.




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