James Devine, the controversial and mendacious political consultant charged with election fraud, demonstrated an inclination to fix elections as far back as 1981 when he was helping Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) win a third term in the State Assembly after party bosses dropped him from the organization line.
Elizabeth Mayor Thomas Dunn wanted to dump Lesniak and replace him on the Democratic line with the city’s health director, John Surmay.
“Dunn played his cards perfectly. He was working against me behind the scenes, and I was blissfully unaware,” Lesniak recalled in his autobiography. “On the night of the voting, the Rahway Democratic chair flipped against me, and Dennis Estis, the Union County Democratic chair, broke a tie in favor of Dunn’s choice, who, of course, also had the vote of Elizabeth’s chair.”
Lesniak alleged that Dunn promised the Rahway party leader a $10,000-a-year job as an aide to Surmay.
Instead, Lesniak prepared to mount an off-the-line bid for re-election.
“I turned over my petitions to a young volunteer, James Devine, who was an ardent enemy of Dunn because of a tussle Dunn had had with his dad,” Lesniak wrote “I gave him a train ticket to file my petitions with the secretary of state in Trenton.
Something the perjurious Devine said has stuck with Lesniak.
“After he returned, Devine said to me with an impish smile, ‘If Dunn was willing to promise the Rahway Democratic chair $10,000 to knock you off the line, how much do you think I could have gotten to toss your petitions in a trash can and knock you off the ballot?’” Lesniak recalled. “We both laughed, but it was an indication of how Devine’s mind worked. He would later become a controversial political consultant with a particularly devious side to him.”
Devine remained a Lesniak ally for several years, serving as political director of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee while Lesniak was state party chairman in the 1990s. The two split more than 20 years ago.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s office alleges that Devine filed fraudulent nominating petitions to get his life partner, shadowy perennial candidate Lisa McCormick, on the ballot against Gov. Phil Murphy in the 2021 Democratic gubernatorial primary.