Local Dems decide on next leader of the party

UNION COUNTY — It has been several decades since the Union County Regular Democratic organization had to concern themselves with finding a new political leader or two.

It appeared as of Tuesday, county Democrat committee members were lining up behind 22nd district State Assemblyman Jerry Green of Plainfield to lead the party that has seen fractures in recent months.

The county party chair position came up for grabs when Charlotte DeFilippo announced last month that she was stepping down as party chairman after more than two decades at the helm. The decision came just days after she came under fire at the state level from Tom Neff, head of the Local Finance Board in Trenton, because of the salary and benefits she received as executive director of the Union County Improvement Authority.

Currently the UCIA is investigating if DeFilippo received cash payment for more sick and vacation days than she actually used. Just the sting of this had party members reeling right before the primary last week. Nevertheless, contested seats were won handily by Regular Democratic Organization candidates, leaving county party members breathing a sigh of relief prior to this week when the party chair seat would be decided.

Although LocalSource went to press before Democrat committee party members were meeting to vote on the chairman position, as of Monday one of the contenders, Democrat State Sen. Ray Lesniak, was out of the running.
Last week a good number of legislators threw their support behind the powerful state senator to take over as state Democratic party chairman, a job Lesniak said he would not turn down. In fact, this stirred the political pot because this was not the choice of Democrat candidate for governor, Barbara Buono.

Last month Buono tapped Hudson County Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell for the job, despite political party powerhouses not standing behind her choice. Democrat Assemblyman Joe Cryan also supports O’Donnell, but according to party insiders, support was leaning heavily towards Lesniak for the position.

Although a candidate for governor usually calls the shots for state party chairman and party members respectfully follow this lead, that did not happen this time around.

In fact, even Democrat State Senate President Steve Sweeney threw his support behind Lesniak, along with other power players who felt Lesniak has the experience and ability to raise campaign dollars. Whether that money will be used to support Buono, though, is the question. The decision on the state party chairman will go up for a vote next week, following the selection of the Democrat county chairman position.
Lesniak, who is known for his national fundraising contacts, said publicly over the weekend that he was willing to step into the role, if this is the choice of legislative party members.

Lesniak’s name first surfaced about two weeks ago and since then there has been considerable media attention placed on the issue. Specifically because of Buono running for governor while party members appear to be ignoring her choice for state Democratic party chairman.

Over the weekend, Rahway Democrat Councilman Robert Bresenhan backed Lesniak for the state party chairmanship, noting that this was “a crucial year and critical election cycle.” He said the state party needed a leader who could unify and lead Democrats to victory in November. However, that might be difficult for Buono to do since she is trailing Republican Chris Christie by 30 points in the polls.

Other political players talked behind the scenes about the state Democratic chair position, certain that it would be Lesniak whose votes would far outweigh those cast for O’Donnell.

Meanwhile, back at the county level, Green continued to lay the groundwork for getting the votes he needed Tuesday night to take over as party chairman. Sources Localsource spoke with Monday said support for Green was growing as the party tried to unite.

Also a contender is Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, but as of late Monday, it was becoming more apparent support for this contender was waning.