In the lead-up to last Monday’s filing deadline, the county chairs in both parties made consequential decisions that reminded people of their existence.
Here are eight instances of party chairs playing a role ahead of the deadline:
Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman Kevin McCabe
The chairman intervened in the Edison Mayor’s contest, removing local Democratic Party Chairman Mahesh Bhagia from the party line for mayor and instead awarding the support of the party to Council Vice President Sam Joshi. McCabe critics howled about the chairman overstepping his bounds on scant evidence that Bhagia perpetrated in any way a racist 2017 mailer, while Bhagia critics cited the local chairman’s less than impressive “I do not recall” performance as compelling enough to warrant the party hitting the eject button on him. But Bhagia’s backers insist he has enough strength to cause Joshi trouble off the line, in part by invoking McCabe’s override of his local win. We will find out on June 8th.
Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman Paul Juliano
The retirement of state Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-37) summoned her slate mates into a brawl for her seat. Juliano told Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle that Assemblyman Gordon Johnson had “likely secured the support of a majority of the district’s delegate,” prompting Huttle to make a public case against Juliano that he had leaned on the scale in favor of Johnson. The Bergen chair’s backers insist Juliano is the “anti-McCabe,” in that he let the process play out without bullying delegates, but don’t tell that to Huttle. A specifically anti-boss message anchors her off-the-line primary campaign. “If I walked away every time a man in power told me to back off, I couldn’t have become a proven, progressive leader in the Assembly. But I never walk away.” The delegate-friendly Johnson is depending on his establishment-friendly record in Trenton, and if he wins, his victory would in part prove the strength of the Bergen Democratic line in the Juliano era.
Hudson County Democratic Chairwoman Amy DeGise
Surely the powerful Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) would not put the will of Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis on par with that of North Hudson bosses Stack and Sacco, who routinely dispense with running mates when politically expedient. David wanted to dump Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti (D-31) in favor of dock-friendly ally William Sampson in the name of exerting mayoral influence. On paper, at least, Hudson mayors are supposed to have that kind of influence. But Davis??? Well, everyone but, right? Wrong. DeGise decided that Davis should have his pick, even if it meant jettisoning former Bob Menendez state director Chiaravalloti. The sitting assemblyman promptly announced his reelection bid off the line.
Atlantic County Democratic Committee Chair Mike Suleiman
Annoyed by Craig Callaway’s employment last year in the service of U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2), Suleiman exerted his chairman’s power by awarding the party line to incumbent Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small, rather than watch Small endure the gauntlet of a process ultimately controlled by Callaway at the local level) Callaway’s sister serves as the AC Democratic chair).
Union County Democratic Committee Chairman Nick Scutari
The 2018 war for the chairmanship of the Union County Committee pitted Scutari against Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, who ran with the backing of state Senator Joe Cryan (D-20). The wounds and hurt feelings between the two senators didn’t linger long enough – or go deep enough – to prevent Scutari and Cryan from supporting each other’s 2021 reelections, while agreeing to jettison Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20). The presence of Holley as an off-the-line challenger to Cryan, not to mention the longstanding animus between Scutari and Linwood Mayor Derek Armstead suggested the potential for a countywide war. It doesn’t appear to have developed that way, however. From strictly a primary standpoint, the deal with the massively establishment-backed Cryan worked out especially well for Scutari, who does not face a primary opponent this year. Signaling the Holley-centric nature of the collision and pinpoint collateral damage, Scutari hit the eject button on incumbent Union County Commissioner Andrea Staten, a Roselle-based Holley ally.
Monmouth County Republican Chairman Sean Golden
The Monmouth County GOP Chairman oversaw a thumb-exerted process that extricated incumbent Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-13) from the organization. Golden and his committee instead awarded the GOP line to Holmdel School Board President Victoria “Vicky” Flynn. Although losing by a margin of 145 to 87, DiMaso said she will run in the June Republican Primary, which will put Golden’s organization to the test.
Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer
It looked like a brewing war in LD16 with the retirement of state Senator Kip Bateman (R-16) and the presence of 15,000 more Republicans than Democrats in the Central Jersey District. McCabe – there’s that Middlesex County chairman again – backed Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16) for the seat, prompting Somerset County Chair Schaffer to threaten to mount a counteroffensive with a Somerset-based candidate in the name of keeping the seat in her county. Although some saber rattling ensued, Schaffer ultimately folded in behind the Middlesex-based Zwicker, losing a specifically Somerset-footed senator but gaining former Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer as a running mate for fellow Somerset public servant Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-16).
Bergen County GOP Chairman Jack Zisa
In the aftermath of the death of Gerald Cardinale, Zisa flattened the tires of Assemblyman Robert Auth when he placed his support behind Holly Schepisi for the senate seat in LD39. Schepisi assumed the seat late last month.