Why Jason O’Donnell? Well, I’ll tell you why Jason O’Donnell. Jason is energetic, young, committed. Jason used to be a field person. [snip] Jason will do anything, will go to any lengths, to do what is right for the Democratic Party. He will unite the Democratic Party, along with Chairman Currie, myself and all of you – from north, to south, east to west.
– Buono, announcing her choice for DSC chair
You can call it the political equivalent of the Friday night news dump, the late-night confirmation of Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell as the pick for state Democratic chair by the woman not every leading Democrat thought even had the right to set party direction by getting her choice.
It’s tradition that the presumptive nominee gets to make this choice; it matters for solidarity, for agreed-on allocation of resources, for speaking as a unified voice behind the standard-bearer. Making this a year not to honor that tradition – when a woman is at the top of the ticket – would have left the state Dems with an awful optics situation (particularly after this) that might have angered the Democrats’ bedrock constituency, women. It absolutely would have riled me.
As the buzz built behind O’Donnell, Christie loyalists in the party began issuing stink bombs in the press. Buono campaign chair Asw Bonnie Watson Coleman floated O’Donnell’s name a week ago, followed by a string of oh-no-she-didn’t sound bites from powerful Democrats not anxious to relinquish the reins. The loudest of these issued from party boss heaven in the north and the south; Senate President Steve Sweeney told Buono O’Donnell would divide the party, county chair Phil Thigpen in cobalt Essex said he’d support Buono’s pick as long as it wasn’t O’Donnell. Speaker Sheila Oliver had very specific concerns (and I hope her concerns were addressed).
Buono’s pick tonight was absolutely defiant. State chairs are rarely acclaimed by everyone. But this decision was made in the face of considerable muscle-flexing, and standing against that is a risk I hope pays off. That said, I don’t know all the stories of those who were willing to put aside difference and accommodate Buono’s determination. I know that there were some. There was some quiet grace shown by some powerful Dems, some generosity, some class.
Speculation at Buono’s late-night dessert reception, where O’Donnell was announced, was that the announcement was held off till way after dinner so that anybody still unhappy wouldn’t even be in the room. And some people did peel off. But there was also a competing event, Democrats 2000’s first big event with new president Jorge Santos (congratulations, Jorge), and not everybody knew O’Donnell would be announced that late.
The party was already in full swing, already loose, as a hoarse Passaic Chair John Currie (rumored in the running early on) announced Buono, who announced O’Donnell. In her remarks, Buono said “this room is the Democratic Party. Among those staying late to welcome the new chair, Loretta Weinberg, Frank Pallone, Watson Coleman, Troy Singleton, Morris Chair Lew Candura, Monmouth Chair Vin Gopal, and incoming Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop.