The Case Against Nia Gill

Nine years ago last month, I hosted one of the very first Essex for Dean Meetups at a coffeehouse in Montclair and in addition to the laundry list of activities that Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign tasked us with, I added one very important task to the list; help re-elect State Senator Nia Gill, who had been thrown off the Essex County Democratic Party line by the newly-powerful Adubato political machine, because she had the temerity to support Tom Giblin the year before when he ran against Joe DiVincenzo in the County Executive primary election.  

It was my belief in general that the way that grassroots progressives, who were supporting Howard Dean and were not connected in any way to the Democratic establishment, could get elected officials and party leaders to join us would be to spend 2003 helping to elect Democrats.  In addition to Governor Dean being the only Presidential candidate to attend the 2003 NJDSC Conference in Atlantic City and blowing the attendees away with a speech like one that they had never heard before and still have not heard since, New Jersey for Dean played a major role in helping Nia Gill retain her State Senate seat in the primary election and Ellen Karcher upset then Senate co-President John Bennett and inspired then Senate co-President Dick Codey to convince then-Governor Jim McGreevey to get most of the rest (before this, Assemblypersons Pat Diegnan, Reed Gusciora, Linda Stender, Loretta Weinberg, and John Wisniewski and Congressman Frank Pallone were the highest-profile Dean endorsers to date) of the Democratic establishment on board with Dean.  Aside from this great achievement, I was most proud of our ability to protect a great, progressive state legislator, Nia Gill, from a political machine that was looking to end her political career.

This is why I find it so disappointing and disturbing to b

I don’t have any hard evidence (documents, secret e-mails, etc.) to prove this case, but I think that the following is still compelling enough to raise questions about the seriousness of Nia Gill’s congressional candidacy.  My theory is that she was compelled by the Adubato machine to run for Congress in CD10 for the purpose of (1) keeping Sheila Oliver from running and creating a chain of events that would cause the Adubato machine from losing control over the Assembly Speakership and 2) dividing the suburban progressive vote that Ron Rice would have been able to unify if she was not running.

This theory was originally based on the fact that by NJ political standards a State Senator is a more powerful position than that of a Congressperson and while it is not unheard of for State Senators to abandon their powerful positions for Congressional runs as John Adler did, his case is more of the exception than the rule.  However, when it was announced that she was going to run off the line bracketed with a candidate for Sherriff, I gave her the benefit of the doubt.  That was until it was later revealed that her campaign failed to file for the special election.

There is no good reason why a serious candidate for Congress would have her staff/volunteers collect signatures and file a petition for the general election and not the special election.  All you need to do is have the same people who are signing the first petition also sign the second petition.  It does not even require a significant amount of work.  I don’t know what lit you have seen or spin you have heard, but there is no argument that can justify this.

If, as you say, her campaign is going to argue that they are allowing voters to honor the past (Payne Sr.) by voting for Payne Jr. in the special election and win the future by voting for her, she is effectively endorsing Payne Jr. for Congress.  There are no circumstances by which Payne Jr. would resign from both the Newark Council and the Essex County Freeholder Board just to serve out the last two months of his father’s term.  It would be tantamount to political suicide.  In fact, she has created a situation whereby her victory would require someone to resign their current office for a two-month term.  At best, it was a gross act of irresponsibility.  At worst, it is proof of a conspiracy to rig an election.

While it is possible that if she won the primary election for the full term, whomever won the special election primary could drop out and she could be named as the replacement as Rob Andrews’ wife did after he lost to Lautenberg in the 2008 senatorial primary, but this is the act of someone trying to extend a congressional career, not start one.  If she was seriously trying to make history as NJ’s first African-American congresswoman, she would make sure that all of the I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed so that her candidacy was one to meet if not exceed the magnitude of the historic moment that she was looking to create.  She would also know that the seniority that would come from winning the special election would give her a leg up on every freshperson Congressperson that is sworn in this January.  These are not the kinds of things that a serious Congressional candidate leaves up to chance or political chicanery.

Nia Gill is a very influential and powerful State Senator.  She has a successful law practice of her own.  One of her clients is the Essex County Improvement Authority.  I think that it is safe to assume that her current annual earnings far surpass that of a Congressperson, who is prohibited by law of having any other professional source of income while serving as a member of Congress.  That said, Her State Senate seat and a significant portion of her income could be taken away from her at any time going forward by the Adubato machine.  As much as this could be a reason to give it all up for a life in Washington, DC, it is far more likely the reason that she has agreed to play this role as the Adubato machine’s progressive decoy.

Nia Gill was able to survive in 2003, because her opponent, Leroy Jones, had a lot of things working against him.  His base, East Orange, was still in the midst of a civil war, and his benefactors, the Adubato machine had just taken power in Essex County, which also was still in the midst of a civil war.  If the Adubato machine wanted to take her out, they could enlist Assembly Speaker Oliver to do it, knowing that Oliver is most likely not going to be Speaker come Janaury 2014.  Oliver would be a far tougher opponent for Gill, who might not have people like Dick Codey and Tom Giblin on her side anymore.  Giblin was able to replace Peter Eagler in the Assembly because the Adubato machine was willing to give him the line and if Codey wants to run for Governor next year, he will probably have to make peace with the machine as well.

In the grand scheme of things, the Adubato machine does not gain much by replacing Gill with Oliver, but they can use the threat of it to get her to do what they want, which is to serve as their progressive decoy, so that they can get Payne out of his Freeholder and Council seats, fill them with people who they control, and be in position to take control of the Newark Mayor’s office in 2014 if Cory Booker runs for the Senate as many people predict he will.

You know as well as I do, Jeff, that this is what political machines do and while I do not have documented evidence to support this theory, I believe that the Gill campaign’s failure to file for the special election is more than enough evidence to make this theory credible enough for progressives to refuse to support her and unify behind Ron Rice.  However, this is not going to happen if I am one lone voice shouting it at the top of my lungs.  I need you to believe this to be true and for you to be willing to make this argument to others and for them to believe this to be true and be willing to make this argument to others and so on and so on.

People believe in God with far less evidence to support this belief than the argument that I have made to you in this e-mail.  That belief comes from credible people believing the same thing and passing it along to others.  I do not believe that Ron Rice can beat Donald Payne Jr. if the progressive community is divided between Rice and Gill and I do not believe that Gill is going to run a serious campaign.

Unfortunately, harder evidence like fundraising numbers will not be available until after the primary election campaign is over, because it is unlikely that Gill did much, if any, fundraising prior to the March 31 filing deadline and I do not expect that she will do much, if any, going forward.  She might get an EMILY’s List endorsement, but I seriously doubt that it will produce much, if any, money, because Gill knows as well as anyone how precious their dollars are and will not want them squandered on a fake candidacy.

Please consider everything that I have written here and let me know if you will consider making a stronger case against Gill to GSE and other progressives who might otherwise consider supporting her.

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