Last night at a packed meeting of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization, the venerable PCDO, Assemblyman John Wisniewski was endorsed for Governor.
Standing-room only; 300 people grilling Ray Lesniak, Jim Johnson, Phil Murphy and Wiz. To win endorsement, you needed 60%. And in the 2nd round of voting – and questions on immigration, ACA, charter schools, pension reform – Murphy and Wisniewski went head-to-head. And Wiz won. Last night mattered to Princeton Dems; so many showed up to hear the candidates, they had to turn people away at the door.
Maybe it’s different when the actual voting members get to decide who to endorse, after the candidates appear before them, speak their piece and take their questions, instead of endorsements being handed out months before in private insider conversations between candidate and county chairs. In Jersey diners and Italian restaurants, and with money.
That’s the way Phil Murphy did it, and it was a master-stroke of strategy, of savvy manipulation of how things really work in the Democratic Party in New Jersey. That is, that it’s the county chairs who hold the real power in New Jersey – in the counties that count, and even in the ones people say don’t count.
The smart money is on the chairs, and that’s exactly where it went. And the smart money knows the chairs all have something they want, or they just can’t bear to be left out when the power shifts. And everybody knows that when the chairs endorse, months before those chairs bother to call a convention and put the candidates up for a fair vote, the press will report it as the whole county party has endorsed.
I’m not picking fights with any of these publications; they’re correct. They report it like the county chairs are the county party. Are they wrong?
Our county Democratic organizations are not small-d democratic. And in order for that to change, the members will have to change it – by voting measures that disallow the chairs’ unitary endorsement, or by electing more activist members who will make demands on the chairs for more democratic process and greater transparency – or by working with those chairs who are willing, to bring new vitality to their organizations by vesting the real power with the county committee and the neighborhood voting precincts they represent.
And know this: Nothing in this is meant to undercut Phil Murphy. I first met him eleven years ago, when he was Gov. Howard Dean’s Finance Chair when Howard ran the DNC. Those were, for me and by all metrics, the golden years at DNC. Long before they disgraced their own Charter by pre-selecting one presidential candidate and conspiring against the other, and back when we kept on winning. State houses. Congressional seats. The White House. I always tell Phil Murphy that to me, he’s the guy who got Howard Dean’s 50-State Strategy funded. He always demurs and shucks off that compliment – but it’s true. So, this isn’t about Phil, who I like, and should he win I believe would make a successful Governor.
So would Wiz. Or Lesniak. And I want my fellow Dem county committee members to get the chance to hear from them and make their own decisions, before our county is counted in anybody’s column. And that includes counties where the convened party votes in convention exactly as the chair committed 4 months ago.
You’d think that New Jersey Dems, who rushed so eagerly to support the presidential candidate the smart money – and the big money – said was going to win, would remember how many equally eager voters felt shut out. With an “inevitable” candidate we were told was pointless to challenge – because the real decisions were already made by the Democrats smarter or better connected than you.
What im saying is: To fight for a better country, we cannot afford to let the insiders – be they county chairs, or superdelegates – make rank and file Democrats feel like the decisions are already made before they even get to the table. We speak up against machine Democratic politics here at Blue Jersey, but we don’t talk enough about how the other kinds of back-room decisions are made. Phil Murphy is a smart guy with smart advisors. He worked the system like a champ. It’s not his fault all he really has to do is sew things up before the rest of us are ready.
But by the same token, when the Democratic movement was at its strongest nationally – when Dean ran it – one of the keys was to decentralize our processes, and engage and empower local people on the ground to feel like their labors are what really powered the party. Phil Murphy ought to remember this; he’s the guy who funded the 50-State Strategy.