Home>Articles>Stomping Grounds: Durr vs. Sawyer; Tom Giblin; Arthur Barclay; and NJ-7

Stomping Grounds: Durr vs. Sawyer; Tom Giblin; Arthur Barclay; and NJ-7

By David Wildstein, March 31 2023 4:44 pm

New Jerseyans aren’t always civil, but it’s still possible for a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican to have a rational and pleasant conversation about politics in the state.  Dan Bryan is a former senior advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy and is now the owner of his own public affairs firm, and Alex Wilkes is an attorney and former executive director of America Rising PAC who advises Republican candidates in New Jersey and across the nation.  Dan and Alex are both experienced strategists who are currently in the room where high-level decisions are made.  They will get together weekly with New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein to discuss politics and issues.

New Jersey Globe: It seems like the best primary in the state is in South Jersey, where Beth Sawyer is challenging Ed Durr.  What can we expect to see there over the ten weeks?

Alex Wilkes: This will definitely be a primary to watch, but I have to step and marvel at the bigger picture. Just two years after dethroning the Democratic Senate President from that same district, Republican primary voters are now debating about which Republican should represent them – and not just resigning to the Sweeney-Norcross reign of terror. The South Jersey political realignment is key to our success as a party statewide going forward and provides a blueprint to competitive, similarly situated districts this year.

Dan Bryan: I have no doubt Senator Durr and Assemblywoman Sawyer will do their best to out-MAGA each other, leaving the winner even more vulnerable to a Democratic challenge in the general election. 

Republicans have a very narrow path to a majority in either house, and they won’t get there by running to the far-right. It seemed like Ed Durr was a star in the making for a state party that desperately needed some momentum, but it looks like that romance didn’t last. I’m sure John Burzichelli is following the Republican primary with great interest.

NJ Globe: Essex County Democrats made a last-minute candidate switch on Saturday, with Tom Giblin retiring and Alixon Collazos-Gill replacing him on the organization line.  Instead of three white guys, the ticket now includes a young Latina.  Was this the right move?

Dan: This selection was a no-brainer. I’ve known Alixon for years – she’s smart, she’s tenacious, she’s warm, and she knows her community better than anyone. Essex County Democrats should be commended for coalescing behind Alixon.

Representation matters in politics. Having more Latina representation in Trenton will help ensure that the policies our Legislature crafts work for everyone, regardless of background or gender. Alixon, if elected, will increase the growing number of women of color serving the public in Trenton, something we all should get behind. 

Alex: I am glad to see the Democrats borrowing from the Republicans’ winning 2021 playbook in running a female candidate to shake up the old boys’ club!

NJ Globe: Arthur Barclay resigned his State Assembly seat in 2018 after he was arrested for punching his girlfriend in the face and breaking her nose; the charges were dropped when she failed to appear in court as a witness.  Now he’s running for Camden city councilman.  Can a candidate come back from a domestic violence charge, even if their record is clear?

Alex: I am a strong believer in due process – and not just under the law, but also in the context of workplace, academic, and organizational settings. Threats to someone’s life, liberty, employment, education, or association require far more serious contemplation than our 140-character driven society could ever provide in the public arena.

I do think, however, when it comes to allegations made while running for public office that voters appropriately mete out those judgments at the ballot box. Of course, we should take care as opposing campaigns, journalists, and civic leaders to avoid amplifying accusations made in bad faith, but no one has a right to hold public office.

All of that being said, if I were a Camden voter, I know how I would vote with his record and bizarre disappearance in the middle of a legislative session. This was the best Camden Democrats could offer?

Dan: Alex is right. Due process matters, and in this country, we are all innocent until we’re proven guilty. But the court of public opinion is very different from the court of law.

In short, I don’t think a candidate can (or should) come back from something like this. I know that, personally, I would never support a candidate that has been credibly accused of domestic violence, and I find it baffling that anyone would support the former Assemblyman in this instance. He was right to resign in 2018, and anyone offended by his attempt at a return to public office is right to be offended.

NJ Globe: We’re through the first quarter of 2023, and there are no Democrats in the congressional race to take on Tom Kean, Jr. in New Jersey’s 7th district.  I know a lot of people are waiting for Tom Malinowski to decide if he wants a rematch.  How long does he really have to decide before other candidates lose fundraising opportunities?

DB: As the saying goes, it’s getting late early. CD7 is going to be one of the most closely watched congressional elections in the ’24 cycle, and Congressman Kean has a serious head start. Democrats need to find their candidate, start fundraising, start communicating about the incumbent candidate and his party’s disastrous record in DC, and start the cycle as soon as possible.

Does that mean Tom Malinowski has to make a decision tomorrow? No, but I would hope he’ll announce his intentions one way or another sometime in Q2. If he’s going to run, he needs to start putting the pieces in place, and if not, he needs to give any potential candidates plenty of time to put together a challenge to Congressman Kean. Democrats can win this district, but not if they wait too long to get started.

AW: Here go my Twitter mentions on a perfectly nice Friday afternoon (thanks, David), but so far Malinowski has charted a very strange post defeat path. I mean, when your first initiative is fighting for the Murphy sex ed for second graders curriculum, are you looking for more of a beating? You have Democratic legislators announcing their retirements to avoid having to answer for that this year!

I feel for the other Democrats who may want to try their hand at this race, even if they will ultimately lose to Congressman Kean. My friend Tom Szymanski said it best: he’s like the crazy ex that can’t move on.

In all seriousness, these congressional races are marathons, and while donors and activists will undoubtedly be focused on an important year for New Jersey, amassing a war chest to run for one of the most competitive House seats in the country is no small task. Democrats will need all the time they can get – particularly with having to run in this economy with Joe Biden at the top of the ticket.

NJ Globe: Dan, I spoke to the class you teach at Seton Hall last week, and Alex was there this week.  Who did better?

Dan: I’m going to go with an obvious copout answer here: you were both great.

OK fine, I’ll give Alex the edge for being there in person (sorry David, but it’s just not the same over Zoom). As a side note, it was our first time meeting in person, and Alex could not have been more gracious, or more generous with her time. The students got a totally different perspective from her than they usually get from me – not only as a Republican, but also as a woman who has succeeded at such a high level in politics. Whether or not they agreed with her politics, it was a hugely valuable experience for them.

But… I will say that no one in New Jersey can quite measure up to the life experience and passion for New Jersey politics that you brought to the classroom, David. I told the class that you’d be the most interesting speaker we’d have this semester, and you did not disappoint. I’m looking forward to booking both of you for a return engagement next semester.

Alex: David, I feel like this question was designed to set me up for failure – like there’s even a possibility that this Pennsylvania import could come close to your encyclopedic knowledge of New Jersey politics. As a former college student sitting through lectures in politics classes, I know which speaker I would’ve chosen! It makes Dan’s very kind response here all the more generous.

I did really appreciate the invitation from Dan to go back to school for the afternoon. Political organizing on campus played a huge role not just in my professional life in introducing me to the leaders of my generation, but in personal life, as well. I found my husband and some of my best friends for life just knocking on doors down the shore. It was fun sharing my experience with Dan’s very bright students and future New Jersey leaders.

I hope their most important takeaway was actually the exchange Dan and I had about leaving politics aside from time to time – otherwise you’ll miss out on having some pretty great people in your life.

Go Pirates!


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