Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-Newark) has endorsed LeRoy Jones, Jr. for New Jersey Democratic State Chairman.
Payne had previously told the New Jersey Globe that he wasn’t ready to choose between Jones and the incumbent, John Currie.
“I honestly believe that Chairman Leroy Jones understands this challenge and knows how to make our party stronger than ever and more successful than ever,” Payne said. “Chairman Jones is the right man to provide the leadership that can unite the party and move us forward together to defeat the Trump agenda in 2020 and to re-elect the Murphy/Oliver team in 2021.”
So far, Payne has avoided taking sides in a Democratic Party deeply divided into at least two factions. In an endorsement letter, he specifically refers to Currie as a friend who served Democrats with honor.
He also said he fully supports Gov. Phil Murphy, who is Currie’s top backer, and Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, who has endorsed Jones.
“While I am fully aware of the political contest going on inside the Democratic Party, I do not believe that any of that should prevent us from working together as Democrats in order to fulfill our fundamental responsibility as public servants to advance a public policy agenda designed to address the needs of our constituents,” said Payne.
The ties between Jones and Payne go back several years. The congressman’s late father, Donald M. Payne, Sr., endorsed Jones in a State Senate primary sixteen years ago, and his uncle, William Payne, served in the legislature with Jones.
Payne made a point of recalling Jones as a progressive legislator when he served in the New Jersey State Assembly.
“He demonstrated commitment to progressive principles, integrity, a willingness to serve and most importantly for me, he shares my concern for equal opportunity and advancing an urban agenda to move our state forward,” Payne said. “He also proved to me his courage to speak truth to power by working with President Clinton on the issue of racial profiling in the New Jersey State Police and working to hold senior government officials accountable for their actions and inactions, including our Attorney General at the time.”
Payne is talking about Peter Verniero, who had had approved a plan to systematically stop and search African American drivers on the New Jersey Turnpike when he was the state Attorney General.
When Verniero was nominated to serve as an Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1999, he faced fierce questioning over his role in racial profiling. Every Democrat in the Republican-controlled State Senate voted against his confirmation.
In 2001, the Senate Judiciary Committee launched an investigation into racial profiling. Verniero spent more than a dozen hours testifying.
Several Senators accused him of misleading the committee during his own confirmation hearing. Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, a Republican, called for his resignation. The State Senate called for his impeachment.
Jones was the sponsor of a resolution to initiate impeachment proceedings against Verniero, a move that was blocked by the Republican Assembly Speaker, Jack Collins.
Under pressure, Verniero resigned from the Supreme Court in 2003, before the end of his seven-year term.
Verniero made a political comeback of sorts last year when Murphy named him to lead an independent investigation of the hiring of Albert Alvarez, a former campaign staffer and administration official who has been accused of sexual assault.