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State Sen. Vin Gopal. (Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Gopal wants women, people of color, on legislative redistricting panel

Democrats facing pressure to renegotiate 2019 deal that ended state chairman fight

By David Wildstein, May 19 2020 10:19 am

Senate Majority Conference Leader Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) thinks that Democratic State Chairman John Currie should include at least two women when he files his picks for the Legislative Reapportionment Commission.

“Women deserve representation at every level of government, and that starts with determining how our state will be represented,” said Gopal, a Monmouth County Democrat. “This feels like a truism, but if women make up half of our state’s population, it feels obvious that they should make up at least half of our delegation to this important committee.”

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg led a letter signed by several women legislators demanding a gender balance for the commission.  State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark) did the same thing through the Legislative Black Caucus.

So far, all of the names floated on the Democratic side are men.

“In order to make sure that New Jersey’s government looks like New Jersey’s residents, we must ensure that every New Jerseyan has their voice heard throughout this redistricting process,” Gopal said. “To do so, this redistricting committee must include the voices and experiences of the women – as well as communities of color – who our government is meant to serve.”

Currie has not announced his choices for the commission.

While statutorily the appointments for all five Democratic seats on the panel that draws legislative districts are made by the state party chairman, the decision is not necessarily his to make.   Gov. Phil Murphy, as the titular head of the New Jersey Democratic Party, would typically make that call.

The five seats were deal away late last year as a part of a deal that cleared the way for Currie to win re-election as state chairman against Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr.

Jones dropped out of the race after receiving assurances  that he would become state chairman next year, and that the five legislative redistricting seats on the Democratic side would go to South Jersey, and Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Middlesex counties.

When the deal was finalized, there were no requirements for gender or race involved, sources told the New Jersey Globe.  Now Democrats are being asked to renegotiate their deal.

Senate President Steve Sweeney has claimed the South Jersey seat.  The Globe has previously reported that Jones plans to take the Essex seat, with West New York Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo representing Hudson.  Gary Taffet, a former chief of staff to Gov. James E. McGreevey, has emerged as a leading candidate to be the Middlesex representative on the panel.

According to sources, former Paramus Councilman Joseph Garcia, who had been under consideration for the Bergen seat, is no longer in contention.  Garcia would have been the only Hispanic on the commission.

Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano has not yet decided on the Bergen pick, although it is possible that he could choose to represent his county’s interest himself.

Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt has already filed his five reapportionment commissioners.

Essex County GOP Chairman Al Barlas will become the first non-white chairman of a party’s redistricting commission.  Steinhardt named one woman, Salem County Republican Chairman Linda DuBois, as well as Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, and former Republican State Chairman Michael Lavery.

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