Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones says he is willing to run for Democratic State Chairman in 2020 if support emerges for his candidacy.
“I am interested,” Jones told the New Jersey Globe. “I’d be honored to serve if drafted.”
Jones’ potential candidacy sets up a possible fight with the incumbent, John Currie. Currie’s term expires in thirteen months and he has not yet announced if he will seek re-election.
“It’s a year away,” Jones, a former four-term assemblyman, said. “Certainly, I would be interested.”
A contested race for state chairman could set up a proxy battle between Gov. Phil Murphy and Democratic leaders who have been fighting with the first-year governor.
The big question is whether the enough Democratic county organizations are willing to battle Murphy for control of the Democratic State Committee.
Jones can assemble a coalition that would give him a majority of state committee votes, either against Currie or someone else.
Right now, Jones is at the pinnacle of his political power. He has close ties to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
Last month, Essex County delivered U.S. Senator Bob Menendez a 140,531 vote margin (77%) in his bid for re-election. Menendez won Essex by more than Republican Bob Hugin’s combined pluralities in Ocean, Monmouth, Morris and Sussex counties.
Essex also produced a 28,661 vote margin (67%) for Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) and 70% of the vote in Millburn for Rep.-elect Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill).
Murphy may be hesitant to pick a fight with Jones, the leader of the most heavily Democratic county in the state. In 2017, Murphy won 81% of the general election vote in Essex, racking up a plurality of 98,837.
Murphy and Democratic legislative leaders are just coming off a fierce intra-party battle over redistricting.
Senate President Steve Sweeney had been pushing for a constitutional amendment to change the way district lines are drawn and how the independent commission that will create the new map is picked.
Murphy, along with progressive leaders, shut the plan down. Sweeney announced last weekend that he was dropping a vote that had been scheduled this week amidst wide speculation that he did not have the votes.
At this point, Murphy is in the driver’s seat when it comes to the Democratic side of the map-making panel. Currie, a staunch Murphy ally, gets to name all five commission members.
Part of the plan may be to shift that power to Jones.
Currie’s current political problems go back to early summer, when he used the state party to help Murphy message his side of a budget battle with Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.
A month later, Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe said he was “extremely disappointed that Currie allowed the state party to take sides in a dispute between a Democratic governor and Democratic legislative leaders.”
One day after The Globe reported that Currie’s status as state chairman was tenuous, Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver doubled down in their support of Currie, the longtime Passaic County Democratic chairman.
If Jones runs, Murphy may not be able to count on his own Lt. Governor. Oliver and Jones are longtime allies and friends; Oliver lives in East Orange, where Jones is the Democratic municipal chairman.