Transparency & Accountability – Who runs the Democrats? An Open Thread …

A letter came to light today, via politickernj, from a Somerset County Democratic state committeeman to John Wisniewski, suggesting Wisniewski resign from the NJ Assembly, and bylaws be drawn to keep elected officials from serving the state party committee forevermore. And at least one Democratic County Chair – Somerset’s Peg Schaffer – is on board with that.

Frankly, that’s a hard case to make. Joe Cryan, Joe Roberts and Bonnie Watson Coleman all ran the Party from the Assembly. And Asm Jay Webber runs NJ GOP. That begs the question why the hell the Dems should alter bylaws for what only may be an issue right now – if it’s an issue at all.

And the public relations here is dicey. Awful, maybe. I’m sure Joel Shain – former Orange mayor, who once primaried and lost to Dick Codey – didn’t intend this, but a letter asking the Democratic State Chair to demote himself and have less power than he is already perceived to have, well … not cool. Even though, face it, with notable exceptions the Democrats have a serious swagger deficiency, despite their number advantages. That’s what Shain’s getting at, asking Wisniewski to choose, and pick only the Party. But I think there’s another problem.

Transparency & accountability: Try to find the state committee folks who represent your county, people in Shain’s position –

  • I don’t see their names on the NJDSC website, with other Party contacts.

  • Or on the  NJ Democrats facebook group page.

  • Or the wiki.  

    Note: NJDSC parliamentarian Regan McGrory is thorough & very responsive to requests for info. I’ve asked her for that list, and I expect to post it – but I think those names should be listed on their site, and nobody should have to ask for it.

    Who runs the show? The reality is that the state committee is a rubber stamp. In theory, NJDSC’s primary function – and Wisniewski’s –  is to enact the will of its members. And committeemen like Shain are elected to express that will – our will. And the Chair’s supposed to be guided, at least in part, by those locally-elected to the state Party. In practice … very different. The state committee may have power they don’t exercise, and at any rate we never hear about it. It’s top-down, all the way. We know that the people running the show – really running it – are the professional Dems, the class comprised of high-level state electeds, and Democratic staffers. They’re good people – don’t get me wrong, from time to time, Blue Jersey even lobs a person or two into the front office – and they’re fully committed, good Democrats. It’s reasonable that key daily decisions are made by them – they’re there every day.

    The problem is, in their party capacity they’re not answerable – except to each other, and for their jobs. They don’t report to you. County & state committee people can be a key to change, and greater accountability, but they have to hear from the rest of us that we expect that. And the beginning of expecting them to exercise their power, is seeing who they are, and locally contributing feedback to them. And I expect the NJDSC to work overtime to promote that.

    A good start …I want more: The Party Democracy Act has been a lever to dislodge centralized control, giving party activists (on both sides) a better shot at tracking what really goes on. It’s a good process. And if the state committee is actually nothing more than a rubber stamp – except on rare occasions when they make news, or shock the hell out of the party Chair – then maybe we should be asking why that is, and how actually to have our voices heard when our Party takes action, defines itself, or does battle with an impudent Governor who thinks it’s his way or the highway.

    I’ll post the elected members of the NJ Democratic State Committee, reps from all 21 counties, when I get it. Meanwhile, consider this an Open Thread on Shain’s letter to John Wisniewski.

    Blue Jersey, what do you think?   Text of the letter is after the jump.

    From the letter from Democratic State Committeeman Joel L. Shain of Somerset County, to Chairman John Wisniewsk, on July 14, via politickernj:

    It is my view that to continue as both legislator and party chairman while the opposition controls the executive branch is neither in your personal interest nor that of the party.

    “I believe that you can raise your stature and become the most influential Democrat in New Jersey, provided you jettison the title of Assemblyman. Only then will you be free to fully focus on creating a uniform, well thought out response to those administration policies that are anathema to the party base and harmful to all New Jersey citizens.

  • Comments (3)

    1. Hopeful

      with Wis. or anyone else serving both in elected office and a state party position. It seems like an attempt to take the politics out of politics. Pretending the Democratic party is not closely tied to elected officials seems bizarre.  As Rosi suggests, the elected officials will always be the main leadership of the party.

    2. Jay Lassiter

      in Camden County lots of elected democrats are municipal chairs.  a LOT of them.  in fact, some are good at one and not-so-good at the other. but there will be times when policy and politics seems to clash.  

    3. Adam L

      on a state level, but here in Bergen on the county level, it is still a mess.  I tried for a year to get into an open slot on the County committee and our Muni chair (apparently a nice guy) was all for it but never lifted a finger despite numerous attempts to reach out.  I wrote myself in on the ballot, won and still wasn’t made aware of meetings, etc.  

      I have no idea what is going on at this level.  

      On the state side, there are a few things – the perception issue (which I am big on) and the accountability issue (which is what has gotten people fed up with “both sides”).  As an activist, I’d like to see/know why “my side” consistently fails to do what it should or promised – and why it is constantly losing the messaging game, regardless of who is “in power”.

      Transparency is a key always – as hopeful said – there may not be any issue here, but we won’t know unless we can have access to the information and make our own judgments.

      I know that I don’t trust Christie, but that doesn’t mean that I automatically trust someone like Sweeney because he ISN’T Christie.

      So…….I’d love a “sunlight project” – it benefits everyone.  And I’d love to see those in power actually make it a two way street where they do answer to (or even answer) those who are serving under them or are “plain activists”.

      FWIW, of course….


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