Promoted by Rosi. This post, and the range of comments in response to it, deserves the front page. The NJ Democratic Party seems to be going all to hell. What’s your take?
Over the past several weeks, we have witnessed a grand display of pettiness, arrogance and egotism from the New Jersey Democratic Party, as its two major factions have bickered over the issue of the party’s next Chairman. On one side, St. Senator Barbara Buono, our nominee for Governor, has pushed Assm. Jason O’Donnell of Bayonne for the position, with the simplistic, but traditional, argument that the gubernatorial nominee picks the state Chairman. As usual, the so-called establishment of the party, generally considered to be made up of county bosses and their surrogates, have pushed back on the choice of O’Donnell, and instead push St. Sen. Ray Lesniak, the longtime power in Union County.
The fight has come to consume NJ’s political echo chamber; as if it wasn’t bad enough that the party is split into two factions leading up to a gubernatorial election, we find them having a very public spat. A split like this only reduces our chances of defeating Gov. Christie, and we all know the odds weren’t that great to begin with.
As it always seems to, the blame game has begun in earnest over this issue. Buono blames the party establishment for not respecting her decision as de facto leader of the party, continuing a trend of disrespect towards her candidacy by Christiecrats more interested in their own wants than defeating the conservative Governor. She’s partially right. The party establishment claims that Buono’s pick of O’Donnell, who has developed bad blood with many Democratic leaders in the state, is inherently divisive, and that Lesniak would both be more effective in the job itself and be palatable to all involved. They’re partially right as well.
With all that said, here’s my take on the situation:
The gubernatorial nominee traditionally picks the state chair; for the establishment to rail against that practice this time is disrespectful to Buono’s leadership and shows an unacceptable pettiness unbecoming of our political “leaders”. O’Donnell is not some off the wall pick, either. He’s a State Assemblyman and local party leader who is himself part of a machine (in this case, the Hudson County machine).
However, while the establishment certainly started the fight, they cannot take all of the blame. The way Buono responded is important as well. Her attitude seems to be, Look, this is my decision, and if you don’t like it, that’s too bad. There has been a tendency for the progressive community to characterize this response as strength, which it is; but strength is not always the proper response to defiance, especially when you aren’t in a position of strength. Sometimes, you need finesse instead.
What is the goal here? To defeat the Governor, or to stick it to the party establishment? We can’t do both. As annoying (to put it lightly) as the establishment can be, they are desperately needed to defeat Christie. Buono’s fundraising has been anemic, and this new US Senate race on the horizon is a game changer, as it is probably that race which will be clogging up the airwaves. This detracts from Buono’s ability to present a clear message to New Jersey voters, which will in turn force her to be dependent on these machines for high Democratic turnout.
This is where I’ve lost faith in Buono’s candidacy: she is a politician who has been pushed around by the party bosses for too long, and with this latest incident, I think she’s had it. I think she really is more interested in sticking it to the establishment than she is in defeating Christie. I hope I’m wrong, but this seems to be the path she’s going down (and can you blame her?)
I think we should all take a step back and ask ourselves, how important is this state Chairman issue in the grand scheme of things? Does it really matter all that much? No, it doesn’t. Some will say that if Buono capitulates to Lesniak, it will show weakness on her part. And it will, but showing some weakness would be better than continuing to have this issue dragging through the mud, having Democrats eat each other and ultimately getting slaughtered in November.
Now, please don’t mischaracterize my opinion. I do believe that Buono should have her pick, and that the establishment should accept O’Donnell as Chairman. But I’m trying to be realistic in my thoughts on this, and the reality is that the establishment doesn’t care enough about this election to have any incentive to give up. I wish it was any other way, but it’s not.
I also don’t want this piece to come off as anti-Buono; I know I spent a lot more time talking about why she’s partially to blame than I did on the establishment. This is not because she bears more of the blame, it just took me more words to explain her part in it. I know a lot of people will disagree with my opinion, and that’s fine. I’m just hoping we can move past this nonsense issue soon, without sour grapes, and move towards a Democratic win in November.
tl;dr: The party establishment are acting like petulant children over this state Chairman issue, and Buono seems more interested in fighting with them than moving on and taking the fight to Christie. Christie is sitting back and laughing.