An Open Letter to the next Democratic State Chair

I don’t know who the next state Chair is going to be. I hear rumors. Then I don’t hear them. And then I hear them again.

But no matter who it turns out to be, there are a few things I want to put on the table. I didn’t always agree with Chairman Joe Cryan, but I can’t imagine anyone more driven, more alive, and more vibrant in the pursuit of victories. I hope the next Chair has a lot of Cryan’s qualities, and maybe a little of his swagger too. I admire him. And looking ahead now, a few suggestions for whoever the next Chair is:

Pretend you’re Howard Dean

When Howard Dean became DNC Chair, he presided over a transformation in the way the party spent money (on local organizing, not pricey beltway consultants), and a shift in the culture from over-reliance in high Democratic performance areas/states to not conceding any voter, or any state, anywhere. We won everything on the back of that seismic shift. I’d love to see that here.  But more importantly, I hope the next Chair has their own clearly defined idea of what the NJ Democratic Party can be. Imagine something different, cast that line far out in the water, and change everything. Because there’s a lot in this party that needs to change, and everybody knows it. Imagine what’s possible statewide like Dean did nationally. Stick to your guns, and surprise the hell out of everybody. Because that’s what it’s going to take.

Aggressively pursue 21-County Strategy

Concede no voter. Concede no town. Concede no county. Be the sharpest, cleanest party with a mission that can be understood all over the state. And remember that red county parties need more resources to crack open those places and bring change.  And in an atmosphere of crushing GOP infrastructure, the Chairs, county committees and candidates need all the training, and connection you can give them. Form a Red County Task Force at NJDSC.

Exist between elections for people – Have cool events

NJDSC needs a vibrant events arm. Issues Town Halls, Democrat-sponsored book talks with authors on book tours, movies outside in a park in Trenton, or against an outside wall in Jersey City or Camden. Brainstorm. Keep the idea of Democrat alive in people’s minds. Then employ or implore the people who can do it.

Get the Dem State Conference out of Atlantic City, and out of September

I’ll say this as plainly as I can: It’s insane to take 1,000 of the state’s most passionate Dems out of play for a whole half-week just as the rest of the electorate is waking up to the fact that there are candidates running. Move the thing to late spring/early summer (after the non-partisan elections). Nothing against AC, but move it out of there or at least revolve it all over NJ.

Make it a grassroots event, not an insiders’ schmoozefest.

Move it to a college campus.

Make it a convention, not a conference. Use the opportunity to develop platform, bump up training, and let the people in attendance help set the direction of the party by involving them in decision-making, platform-writing.

Make part of the convention open source. Some of the most exciting meetings in the country are run this way.

Listen to The Citizens Campaign

New Jersey has an idea factory for vibrant civic engagement and good government. They’re about clean, fair politics, and they have the sharpest tools in the toolbox to get us there. They don’t work for you – and that’s good – but they have all the answers. Same suggestion, by the way, for my GOP brothers and sisters.

Play with New Media

Webinars for skills-building. Twitter. Show up on political blogs. Write an internship for a vlogger to travel the state and make short videos asking people why they’re Democrats, or interview vets about the country they fought for, interview workers on labor issues. Experiment. Do stuff I haven’t thought of. This won’t cost you much, if anything. It’s not about that. Do it right and it’ll be fun, and make people see you differently.

Give the party a platform

Let the pro-choice ones battle the anti-choice side. Hash out differences on taxes. Make your stand clear on home rule. The party needs to stand for something, and voters need to see what that is. And not inconsequentially, active Democrats need a voice in setting your direction. That’s their route in, how they can buy-in to who the New Jersey Democrats will be.


You have a nifty website. But it doesn’t do enough. Publish the DNC bylaws, NJSDC bylaws and bylaws of every county party. Everybody needs to know the rules, and how to work them to get done what they want to. Knowing the rules levels the playing field, and if you want us to believe that Democratic is also democratic, you’re going to want to level that field.

Post on your site every member of every Democratic County Committee and how to reach that person. This party should make it easy for Democrats to see who’s supposed to be doing the work where they live, and if that person’s unresponsive, then the party should make easy for someone to challenge and contribute that work. UPDATE 8/2/10 – State Committee reps should be posted, too.

Let young people in

I know the party celebrates its youngest. But I think we can be doing more to provide opportunities, access and resources to them – to College Dems, to Young Dems and to the high school kids working their hearts out in local Dem HQs all over the state. Create committees for them to serve, with real participation, direction and responsibility. Ask the Cory Bookers and the Loretta Weinbergs and the Steve Sweeneys of this party to host Open Houses for kids interested in politics, if they’re not already doing that. Do what we did in the 2005 Corzine Connection part of his campaign: host First-Time Voter events where 18-year olds get access to your Senators, your congressmen, your stars. When national political hotshots come here, don’t just run a fundraiser, tack on a free event for young people to meet that person and ask questions. Be creative. See where kids get interested, then find ways to up the ante for them. Above all, listen to them. In about 5 minutes, they’re going to be running the show. Invest now.

That’s it for now. There will be more. This is an Open Thread.  

Comments (29)

  1. Matthew Jordan

    these are all great suggestions.  Hopefully they get implemented.    

  2. Jay Lassiter

    for those of us who haven’t heard any chatter about this position….. who’s on the shortlist?

  3. tabbycat31

    I wrote a similar blog post on my blog just after Corzine lost the election…. while I was incredibly disappointed, I pointed out what the campaign did wrong and how he did not preach to the choir.  

    I personally would love to make it my mission to turn around the party in Monmouth County, which was creamed up and down the ticket.  While I highly doubt that the powers that be are reading this, I am up for the challenge, and I have a few good ideas that will draw younger people into the party and make them more politically active (for life).

    Another thing that the party needs to realize (on a national level too) is that incumbency does not always equal victory.  In this “throw the bums out” atmosphere, there should be primary challenges to any incumbent with a low approval rating.  

    I will most likely be blogging some more about this over at my own blog– http://outspokenliberal.blogsp

  4. JackHarris

    I think transparency and access are the most critical issues facing the NJ Democratic party.

    How does someone get involved at the county or municipal level?  How are non-partisan community leaders engaged, recruited and persuaded to run for office as good government democrats?

    How does a person get involved and obtain a leadership position that allows them to begin revitalizing precinct and neighborhood level party activities?  

    Who are the party builders in a given county or municipality?

    Take a look at the Minnesota DFL Website and run your mouse over the Contact and DFL Party Tabs.  Party leaders down to the local level and almost all party governance documents are online.

    While the MN DFL does have some issues — mainly an aggressive transition to a staff driven as opposed to a volunteer driven organization under the current chair and ongoing budget and finance issues — the path to getting involved and becoming a leader at the Senate District or Congressional District is pretty open and transparent. (MN Congressional District Chairs are the rough equivalent of NJ County Chairs).

    I think one of our first steps may need to be the development of open and democratic party constitutions on a county by county basis.  The best practices developed at the county level could then be incorporated into a new NJ State Democratic Party Constitution that emphasizes openness, transparency and access.  

  5. Nick Lento

    If the excellent points that Rosie just raised were taken to heart, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to recruit someone from the “New Media” for the job.

    I nominate Rosi Efthim!   She has the smarts, energy, charisma, communication skills and the practically progressive values to influence the process and the debate in a way that would represent the best traditions and values of the democratic party.  The same could be said for Jeff Gardner.

    Whoever is chosen, it really does need to be someone who THE PUBLIC will see as a fresh face that is 100% free of the taint of machine politics.

    The future of the Democratic party in New Jersey lies in a far more aggressively progressively populist direction…….if we DO that, (not just thematic slogans, but concrete actions) we don’t just win elections; we transform this state in ways that will make this a shining example for the whole nation to follow.

  6. Carolyne Volpe Curley

    Rosalie this is outstanding. And the all-county approach is no joke, I really hate how many towns are tossed aside because of Republican voter majority and then Dems there get swept under the carpet never searched for again.

    Is there a reason the convention is in September – is it supposed to be a rally?

    I thought Tom Giblin was an excellent chair, I hope they choose someone just the same who travels the state and gathers and rallies everywhere they go.

  7. agr

    Completely agree about the convention. Not only smack in the midst of campaign season, also right when school starts. And why have it in the middle of a gambling meca? It should be more serious than that.

  8. Bertin Lefkovic

    Prior to 2008, the NJDSC conference was always a weekend or two before or after Memorial Day Weekend and usually followed the June primary, although I remember in 2000, it was a weekend or two before the June primary.  I remember this sadly, because it was such a Jon Corzine lovefest and I was there working for Jim Florio.

    I believe that the reasoning behind the shift to September in 2008 was because the Clinton-Obama primary battle ran long and the Democrats wanted their conference to be a rallying and unifying event and not an angry and divisive one.

    There was no good reason to continue that tradition this year unless there was concern that the LG question was not going to be resolved in time and was going to have the potential to divide the attendees.

    There is no good reason why they do a conference instead of a convention, except for the fact that the Democratic establishment doesn’t like to address substantive issues in open forums and they prefer to party more than anything.

    Being someone who is neither much of a drinker nor a gambler, I always thought that they were a complete waste of time, except for the 2003 conference, when Howard Dean spoke and electrified the conference.  It was without a doubt the high point of my experiences in NJ politics with the McGreevey/Democratic establishment’s endorsement later that year being a close second.

    Undoubtedly, our state’s Democratic Party should have a platform that comes from the party membership.  The existing caucus structure should be expanded and utilized to provide a significant amount of the platform’s structure.

    It would be a nice change of pace if the party establishment chose a chair, or if that is asking too much, a vice-chair from the grassroots.

    That said, the next NJDSC elections will take place in 2013.  If the NJDSC does not make changes to make the party leadership look more like its grassroots, the grassroots should spend the next four years putting more and more members on County Committees, and if there is a contested Gubernatorial primary in 2013, candidates who are running opposition slates should make it a point to run candidates in the NJDSC party elections as well.  Hopefully, this should create opportunities for the progressive grassroots to run candidates in these elections.

    As great as Cory Booker might be, the one downside to him running unopposed in 2013 would be that it would make it very difficult for the grassroots to run opposition candidates in that year’s party elections.

  9. vincent solomeno

    Dead on, Rosi, dead on.

  10. Winston Smith

    and the developers’ agenda, and make amends with progressive environmentalists.

  11. jennypenny

    seriously, how is the chair chosen exactly?  we need Rosi’s integrity, organizing skills, political smarts,  and a fresh approach

  12. FormerBureaucrat

    of Atlantic City.  Better check with Steve Sweeney and Sheila Oliver to see if that will be allowed.  He apparently controls the NJ Democratic Party.  


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