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New Jersey Democratic State Chairman John Currie. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe

Deal in place to end fight for Dem state chairman

Compromise would have Currie re-elected, Jones would take over after 2021 primary

By David Wildstein, December 17 2019 4:28 pm

A deal is in place to avoid a vote in the hotly contested race for Democratic State Chairman, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

Incumbent John Currie would get eighteen more months as state chairman and then step down, with Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr. assuming the top state party post in June 2021, while Gov. Phil Murphy seeks re-election, sources connected to Currie told the Globe, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The real compromise comes on appointments to the Legislative Apportionment Commission.

Essex, Middlesex and South Jersey—which had backed Jones—will each get one seat. Bergen and Hudson, which have been supporting Murphy and Currie, will also each get a seat.

The redistricting commission will be named by Currie, but gives considerable mapmaking authority to Jones allies.

One seat will go to Essex, where Murphy will make an appointment in consultation with Jones.

Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe, and South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross.  McCabe is closely allied with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, and Norcross is tied to Senate President Steve Sweeney.

On Murphy’s side, the picks will go to Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano and Hudson County Democratic Chair Amy DeGise.

Progressive Democrats who had backed Murphy in his fight to re-elect Currie  will not have seats on the powerful commission that will redraw legislative districts in 2021 that will hold for the next decade unless they come from Bergen or DeGise.

The deal also appears, at least for now, to preclude any significant challenge to Murphy in the 2021 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Jones currently has commitments for enough votes to defeat Currie, the state chairman since 2013.  A New Jersey Globe tally has the race at 52.5 votes for Jones and 43 for Currie with one undecided, giving Jones 4.25 votes more than he needs to win.

The compromise allows Murphy to avoid the embarrassment of potentially losing control of his state party just as he has taken on a national role as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.

It also allows Jones to emerge as a peacemaker, unifying the Democratic Party that is sharply divided between Murphy and the Democratic legislative leadership.

Currie gets to remain in office during the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.

In accepting the compromise, Jones must trust that Murphy will fulfill his part of the deal by Currie’s departure in June 2021.

Jones’ leverage comes from the pluralities Essex can offer Murphy for his re-election campaign.  Essex delivered a 140,000-vote win for Bob Menendez in his 2018 U.S. Senate campaign.

The race for state chairman has been going on since December 2018.  A vote is scheduled for next month.

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