GOP State Chairman Doug Steinhardt has tapped Al Barlas to serve as the Republican chairman for legislative redistricting.
Steinhardt named Barlas as one of five Republican commissioners on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission that will draw new Senate and Assembly districts following the 2020 census, along with Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr., Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, former Republican State Chairman Michael Lavery, and Salem County Republican Chair Linda DuBois.
Democrats have not yet named their redistricting commission members, although there is increasing clarity as to who they will be.
As the titular leader of the New Jersey GOP, Steinhardt names the entire Republican side of the ten-member panel.
Barlas, who is in his ninth year as Essex County GOP chairman, recently joined Mercury, a top national public affairs firm with a huge presence in New Jersey.
He becomes the first non-white Republican to chair a redistricting commission, and transitions from being a staffer on legislative and congressional political cartography to leading the panel.
Republicans have gotten shellacked over the last two maps, with Democrats scoring a clear advantage in 2001 and 2011.
Under a deal cut late last year to obviate a fight for Democratic state chairman, their five seats will be divided between Hudson, Bergen, Essex, Middlesex and South Jersey.
Essex County Democratic chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr., who dropped his challenge to state chairman John Currie and will take the top slot at the state party in June 2021, is widely expected to get the Essex seat and could wind up being the Democratic redistricting chairman.
The Hudson seat is set to go to West New York Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo, a top political ally of North Bergen Mayor/State Sen. Nicholas Sacco and a former aide to Vincent Prieto when he was the Assembly Speaker. He also has a relationship with Currie, who theoretically makes the appointments.
Sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity have told the New Jersey Globe that former Paramus councilman Joseph Garcia is a leading candidate to get the Bergen County seat on legislative redistricting.
Garcia is law partners with State Sen. Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus) and former Bayonne City business administrator Joseph DeMarco. He has ties to Bergen County Democratic chairman Paul Juliano and to Hudson County Democratic leaders.
If Garcia gets on the panel, it would almost certainly protect the seats of Lagana and Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) for at least another decade.
Juliano could also wind up taking the Bergen seat himself.
Gary Taffet, a former chief of staff to Gov. James E. McGreevey and a key member of Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe’s inner circle, appears to be the top candidate for the Middlesex seat.
Senate President Steve Sweeney has indicated to a number of Democrats and Republicans that he might take the South Jersey seat for himself, although that deal is not yet done.
On Thursday morning, the Democratic State Committee stressed that no appointments have been made.
“We are focusd on the pandemic and there are no picks for the redistricting commission,” said executive director Saily Avelenda. “None will be selected until later this year.”
This story was updated at 9;26 AM with comment from Avelenda.