The Steaming Load of Crap Award goes to…

…NJDSC Chairman John Wisniewski for putting his name on the following e-mail:

Dear Supporter,

Please join the New Jersey Democratic State Committee for our 3rd Annual Women’s Equality Event honoring County Chairs Charlotte DeFilippo, Elizabeth Muoio, Marguerite Schaffer and Lois Zarish at the home of Marcia Marley on Thursday, August 25th from 6 to 8 pm. Contributions are $91 commemorating 91 years since women received the right to vote.

We are honoring these county chairs who have blazed the trail for all of our women candidates and set an example in their county.  Chairs DeFilippo, Muoio, Schaffer and Zarish embody our Democratic ideals and they work tirelessly to make sure women are on the ballot and to elect Democrats every November.

No other Governor in the country has targeted women in this manner.  Chris Christie has repeatedly displayed a pattern of insensitivity and vindictiveness to the issues that are most important to the women in the state of New Jersey.  He’s used the health of women as a pawn to court the far right of his. The women of New Jersey deserve better.

The county chairs we are honoring have stood up for these issues and supported candidates that stand up for women.  Your support at this event will help enable the NJDSC to better use its resources in this current fight and help train and elect future candidates.

We hope you will join the NJDSC and women leaders from across the state and show your support! To purchase tickets please click here or to RSVP or for more information, please email Heather at hdejong@njdems.org or call 609-392-3367.

Sincerely,

John Wisniewski, Chairman

I have to be honest.  I don’t know anything about Chairwomen Muoio, Schaffer, and Zarish, but there is no doubt in my mind that they are more deserving of their awards than Union County Democratic Chairwoman, Charlotte DeFilippo, who during the decade-plus that I have been involved in NJ politics, has done more to prevent progressive women from being elected to prominent offices than anyone in this state in both political parties.  If Chairwoman DeFilippo is deserving of any award, it should be the Phyllis Schafly Award for her years of disservice to the progressive women of Union County and anywhere else in New Jersey where her influence has had an impact.

I have at least three examples of Chairwoman DeFilippo’s negative actions against progressive women candidates for elected office during this period of time and if this topic interests you, please feel free to continue reading below the fold as I tell the stories of would-be Congresswoman Maryanne Connelly, State Senator Linda Stender, and Assemblywoman Ellen Steinberg.  Imagine if you will that the following stories are accompanied by Arlo Guthrie-style acoustic guitar strumming a la “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (Unrelated to this issue, I had the opportunity to visit Southbridge, MA recently and found the restaurant that used to be “Alice’s Restaurant” and is now “Theresa’s Southbridge Cafe”).

In 1998, Maryanne Connelly came closer than any past candidate to defeating then-Congressman Bob Franks and when Franks announced that he would not be running for re-election to his 7th District Congressional seat in 2000 so that he could pursue the open Senatorial seat of then-retiring Senator Frank Lautenberg, Connelly became an immediate favorite for the open Congressional seat.  However, Union County party boss, State Senator Ray Lesniak, and then-Middlesex County party boss, John Lynch, had other ideas.

According to party insiders with whom I met while working for then-CD7 primary candidate and current Republican Mayor of New Providence, J. Brooke Hern, Lesniak had a relative who he wanted to put into Michael LaPolla’s County Manager job, so he made a deal with LaPolla to give up his job and in return for getting the party line in the Congressional primary election, which should have guaranteed LaPolla the Democratic nomination.

The only problem with this plan was that Lesniak and his partner-in-crime (figuratively if not literally), John Lynch, only controlled two of three (this was before Hunterdon County was part of the district) counties in the district and like most red county Democratic organizations and unlike most blue county Democratic organizations, the Somerset County Democratic Organization took (and still takes) small-d democracy as seriously as they took/take large-D Democratic politics, and these democratic radicals decided to hold a County Convention where the votes were not bought and paid for before the convention was even held.  And it was at this convention where Maryanne Connelly threw her support behind the county’s favorite son candidate, Jeff Golkin, and enabled him to defeat Michael LaPolla in the final round of voting.

Connelly did this, because she had already arranged to be on former Governor Jim Florio’s slate of candidates in Union, Middlesex, and Somerset County, where he did not have the party line in his Senatorial primary election against Jon Corzine, and only needed to prevent LaPolla from getting the party line in Somerset County, knowing that she could get enough votes in Union and Middlesex Counties to keep the race close and then blow LaPolla out of the water in Somerset County where he would not be running on anybody’s slate of candidates.  The strategy worked perfectly and enabled Connelly to win the Democratic nomination in CD7, where she should have been able to defeat the carpetbagging (he ran against Frank Pallone in CD6 in 1998) upstart Republican nominee, Michael Ferguson, who came out of nowhere to take advantage of an ugly primary election battle between Tom Kean Jr. and Assemblyman Joel Weingarten.

However, Lesniak, Lynch, and DeFillippo decided that they were going to make an example of Connelly so that anyone else, who ever had the temerity to run off the line in a Democratic primary election in the future would know that having the party line did not mean anything if it wasn’t accompanied with their blessing.  They refused to give Connelly any support and made it very clear to organized labor that they should not be supporting her either if they wanted to have a good working relationship with the DCOs in Union and Middlesex County going forward.  So instead of being part of the first Democratic victory in CD7 in decades, DeFillippo et al played a major role in enabling Michael Ferguson to narrowly beat Connelly and put him in a position where he could make a deal with Rush Holt, which would make both of their districts uncompetitive for most of the decade to follow.

In 2003, Assemblywoman Linda Stender (along with Assemblymen Patrick Diegnan, Reed Gusciora, and NJDSC Chairman John Wisniewski) were the first elected officials to endorse the Presidential candidacy of then-Vermont Governor Howard Dean.  A few months later, Dean would bring down the house at the NJDSC’s annual conference in Atlantic City.  Later that weekend, then-State Senator Joe Suliga was involved in an incident that included public drunkenness and inappropriate behavior towards a cocktail waitress, which led to him resigning from his office, creating a vacancy that Assemblywoman Stender hoped to fill.

Because of her early support for Dean, his supporters worked very hard on her behalf, reaching out to county committee members in LD22, but it was to no avail as the Linden political machine was a key component of Lesniak’s county political machine and they were committed to keeping the State Senate seat in Linden.  Lesniak had his puppet, Chairwoman DeFilippo, bring all of their influence and power to bear on behalf of then County Freeholder, Nick Scutari, who to his credit has been a surprisingly good State Senator. Scutari’s positive performance does not change the fact that DeFilippo played a major role in blocking Stender’s ascension from Assemblywoman to State Senator much in the same way that Bergen County bossman, Joe Ferriero tried to stand in the way of Loretta Weinberg’s ascension to her current position.  The only difference between DeFillippo and Ferriero is their gender and the fact that Ferriero did not have someone as powerful as Ray Lesniak pulling his strings.

In 2001, Ellen Steinberg fought an independently well-financed and hard-fought LD21 race in a losing effort against the very popular and powerful State Senator Richard Bagger, who is now Governor Chris Christie’s chief of staff.  Two years later, she wanted to run for State Assembly, but because she did not sufficiently kiss Chairwoman DeFillippo’s ring two years earlier, Union County’s Mommie Dearest went out of her way to recruit two male Assembly candidates and gave them the party line in LD21.

Backed by Howard Dean supporters who were already upset by the Chairwoman’s behavior in the Stender debacle, Steinberg defeated both of her male adversaries by a wide margin.  She would go on to lose in the general election as most LD21 candidates do, albeit with more support than Steinberg received from the UCDO, but Steinberg had become more of a persona non grata in Democratic Party circles than even Maryanne Connelly, who at least received a few mea culpas after the fact.  The only thing that Steinberg received was the kind of nasty, sexist and anti-Semitic behind the scenes whispering campaigns that blue county political machines excel at.

Before I conclude this diary, let me requote some of the most salient paragraphs from the NJDSC’s e-mail.

We are honoring these county chairs who have blazed the trail for all of our women candidates and set an example in their county.  Chairs DeFilippo, Muoio, Schaffer and Zarish embody our Democratic ideals and they work tirelessly to make sure women are on the ballot and to elect Democrats every November.

No other Governor in the country has targeted women in this manner.  Chris Christie has repeatedly displayed a pattern of insensitivity and vindictiveness to the issues that are most important to the women in the state of New Jersey.  He’s used the health of women as a pawn to court the far right of his. The women of New Jersey deserve better.

The county chairs we are honoring have stood up for these issues and supported candidates that stand up for women. Your support at this event will help enable the NJDSC to better use its resources in this current fight and help train and elect future candidates.

Am I the only person who sees a disconnect here?  If so, let me break this down a little further.

We are honoring these county chairs who have blazed the trail for all of our women candidates and set an example in their county.  Chairs DeFilippo, Muoio, Schaffer and Zarish embody our Democratic ideals and they work tirelessly to make sure women are on the ballot and to elect Democrats every November.

While I am sure that someone at the UCDO could produce a lengthy list of women candidates that have received the party’s backing during Chairwoman DeFillippo’s tenure, I would be willing to bet that most, if not all of them had to kiss her ring, play by her rules, and passively wait their turn until she decided to give them their opportunity to run, because there is no doubt in my mind that the examples of Connelly, Stender, and Steinberg are only the most high-profile and well-known.  There are probably many more examples of strong women candidates in Union County, bucking the party establishment, and getting smacked down by it, that we don’t know about.

The fact of the matter is that women should not be forced to wait to run for public office until the men who hold these offices are forced to resign from them in disgrace, because this seems like the only time that they are ever considered.  It’s not like anyone had ever even heard of Mila Jasey, Annette Quijano, Dana Redd, and Theresa Ruiz before they were chosen to replace Mims Hackett, Neil Cohen, Wayne Bryant, and Sharpe James.

No other Governor in the country has targeted women in this manner.  Chris Christie has repeatedly displayed a pattern of insensitivity and vindictiveness to the issues that are most important to the women in the state of New Jersey.  He’s used the health of women as a pawn to court the far right of his. The women of New Jersey deserve better.

This is absolutely true, but while I am sure that the NJDSC would like the past to be the past and bygones to be bygones, there can be no doubt that it is talking out of both sides of its mouth if in the same breath it is going to criticize Governor Christie for his anti-woman policies and then champion someone who has impeded the electoral opportunities of progressive women to the degree that Chairwoman DeFilippo has and by doing so, does a disservice to its own powerful arguments on behalf of women and their issues of concern.

Everyone who is familiar with Union County/Central Jersey politics knows about this woman’s history and her role within the Lesniak political machine as Ray Lesniak’s chief puppet and we know that until they are both finally convicted for their corrupt actions and dragged out of their offices by federal marshals, they will continue to wield the power that they have.  We don’t have to like this, but we do have to accept it as part and parcel of Democratic Party politics in New Jersey, but at the same time, the NJDSC does not have to rub it in our faces by giving her an award, particularly a Women’s Equality Award.

I understand that the NJDSC has to raise money so that Democrats throughout the state can be successful this November, but this event could raise just as much money and not be nearly as hypocritical with the other three Chairwomen as its honorees and I call upon the Blue Jersey community to join me in asking Chairman Wisniewski and the NJDSC to remove Chairwoman DeFilippo from the list of honorees for this event.

If the NJDSC is not willing to do this, I think that an appeal should be made to the event’s host, Marcia Marley, who is also the head of Blue Wave NJ, to ask her to ask the NJDSC to remove Chairwoman DeFilippo from the list of honorees for this event.

If she is not willing to do this, I think that Blue Jersey or DFA-NJ should consider holding their own event in Montclair on the same night, honoring Maryanne Connelly, Linda Stender, Ellen Steinberg, Loretta Weinberg and other political women, who not only stand up for women, but as importantly, are a model for all girls and women, because they stand up for themselves.

Thanks,

Bert

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