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Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones. Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe

Earp endorsement gives Jones majority of votes in Democratic state chairman race

With Ocean County, Jones leads incumbent John Currie, 55 to 43

By David Wildstein, November 11 2019 10:57 am

Ocean County Democratic Chairman Wyatt Earp has endorsed LeRoy Jones, Jr. for New Jersey Democratic State Chairman, a move that appears to give Jones enough votes to defeat incumbent John Currie and deny Gov. Phil Murphy control of the state party – and legislative redistricting.

According to a New Jersey Globe tally of the 113-member Democratic State Committee, confirmed by multiple sources, Jones now leads Currie, 55 to 43.

The magic number to win a race for New Jersey Democratic State Chairman is 49 ½ votes.

“In the interest of building state party unity, I am pleased today to endorse Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones, as the next chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee,” Earp said.  “Chairman Jones has demonstrated that he has the experience and the temperament to unite our party and to lead it to even greater electoral success in coming years.”

According to a New Jersey Globe tally of the 113-member Democratic State Committee, confirmed by multiple sources, Jones now leads Currie, 55 to 43.

The magic number to win a race for New Jersey Democratic State Chairman is 49 ½ votes.

“I respect Chairman Currie and his tenure as the longest serving Chairman in the history of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee,” said Earp.  “With that said, I think it would be healthy and important to pass the torch to a new leader. I believe Chairman Jones can help unite all factions of our party.”

The Democratic State Committee has a total of 98 votes, since some state committee members have half-votes.  Democrats allocate state committee seats by population, while Republicans give a flat two seats to each of the state’s 21 counties.

Ocean County Democratic chairman Wyatt Earp

Earp, who had remained uncommitted throughout the 11-month battle, reportedly comes with five votes out of Ocean County – enough to put Jones over the top if all state committee members keep their commitments and vote as expected.

“After consulting and discussing this election with my Democratic State Committee members, who also share a desire for party unity, I enthusiastically support Chairman Jones and his efforts to serve as the next chair of our Democratic Party,” Earp said.

Jones, the Essex County Democratic Chairman, looks to have all 23 votes out of the seven South Jersey counties, eight vote out of Essex, eight in Middlesex, six from Monmouth, and five coming from Union.  With Ocean, Jones is now at 56% of the total vote.

The Passaic County Democratic Chairman and the state party chairman since 2013, Currie received endorsements from Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano and Mercer County Democratic Chair Janice Mironov over the last nine days.

Bergen had already been in Currie’s column – Louis Stellato had pledged Bergen’s eight votes late last year before his departure to become a Sports Authority commissioner – and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes had endorsed Currie last December.

Currie appears to have eight votes from Bergen, seven in Hudson, six out of Mercer, and five coming from Passaic.  He also has a block of thirteen votes from five western New Jersey counties – Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Sussex and Warren – as well as two votes from Monmouth and one each from Essex and Middlesex.

Also at stake with the state chairmanship fight are five seats on the ten-member Legislative Apportionment Commission that will redraw the map of 40 Senate and Assembly districts following the 2020 Census.

Currie said last month that he would consider appointing the five Democratic redistricting commissioners prior to the end of his current term as state chairman.

That would likely trigger an extended battle – perhaps even a court challenge – if Jones wins.

It’s not immediately clear if the Currie vs. Jones fight will actually come down to a vote by the State Committee, especially now that Jones looks to have a majority of the votes.

If Jones’ lead holds, some Democrats might seek to reach an accommodation that might spare Currie a loss.  Currie is personally popular with some of the Democrats backing Currie.

Similarly, Jones is well-liked by many of the state committee members who are supporting Currie and Murphy.

A defeat for Murphy in a vote by state party members would come just as he prepares to assume the chairmanship of the Democratic Governors Association, a post that puts him on the national stage in a presidential election year.

The Essex County Democratic Chairman, Jones said last December that he would consider challenging Currie if the support was there.  He has still not formally entered the race.

If Jones prevails in a yet-to-be scheduled election expected to be held before the end of the year, Murphy would become the first sitting governor since Charles Edison to not control the Democratic State Committee.

Mary T. Norton, a congresswoman from Jersey City, was the compromise pick by Edison and Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague after the 1940 gubernatorial primary.

Edison and Hague split within the first few weeks of his term as governor and Norton remained loyal to the Hudson County Democratic machine.

The relationship between Edison and Hague was toxic on a good day.

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