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Thursday, June 15, 2006

The cancer that is the NJ Democratic Party
Posted by Jill | 6:55 AM
The Democratic Party in New Jersey is and has long been a joke -- or would be if the corruption weren't so rife. The cronyism, the pay-to-play, and the strongarm tactics that remind one more of The Sopranos than anything resembling government are so entrenched, and so repulsive, that were it not for the complete corporatism, theocratic sympathies, and fiscal responsibility that are the hallmark of New Jersey Republicans, I'd never vote Democratic party line again.

My disgust with my local Democratic Party first came to the fore two years ago, when I was working for the Congressional campaign of Anne Wolfe. Wolfe was the candidate of the Bergen County Democratic Organization, and they refused to lift a finger to help out her campaign, believing as the national party did, that the NJ Fifth District wasn't worth fighting for. Without the party's help, Anne Wolfe won 41% of the vote in this supposedly solid Republican district. Imagine what she could have done with help.

Fast forward to 2005. First Boss Ferriero endorses his boy, former Hackensack police chief Ken Zisa against progressive NJ legislator Loretta Weinberg to fill the state Senate seat vacated by Byron Baer. Jon Corzine goes to bat for Weinberg, who eventually prevails -- a rare defeat for Boss Ferriero.

Closely on the heels of this defeat, Boss Ferriero decides to bring in a guy who doesn't even live in the district to run for the 5th District seat, while Anne Wolfe prepares another run. In January 2006, I receive a fundraising letter from Anne Wolfe, and by March she is out of the race -- pushed out by the BCDO's support of a dweeby Clintonista who regards four years working as a PR flack for Big Pharma as "public service." I needn't go into my full Paul Aronsohn rant again, enough keystrokes have been spilled on that one.

In March 2006, I read in the Bergen Record that my old friend from Howard Dean's campaign, Camille Abate, is running for this nomination against Boss Ferriero's boy, and I sign on. Camille wows 'em at public appearances, but some promised endorsements never materialize, presumably because no one dares go up against Boss Joe Ferriero. The June 6 primary comes and goes, and after a peculiar election night that sees Bergen County's vote total come in 2 hours later than those from Warren, Passaic, and Sussex Counties, Abate loses, but gets a third of the vote running off the party line with no money, no organization, and no high-profile endorsements.

This week, someone dared go up against Boss Joe. SEC attorney Bob Gulack decides to run for chairmanship of the BCDO:

It is as incredible to me as it is to you that, after only a few days as an elected member of this committee, I should be rising to make this speech, but our party is facing a genuine emergency. As we all know, Joseph Ferriero has made our party a laughingstock. He has made Bergen County into the ultimate playground for pay-to-play – a sort of Six Flags where big money and puppet politicians swap favors. There is a wrong way to do politics, and it consists of selling off our state to companies seeking pay-to-play contracts, and using the campaign contributions you get to bury all opposition and bully the legislature. We have a political party in the United States for people who want to do these things. It’s called the Republican Party. There is a right way to do politics, and it’s the way that my group won our County Committee seats in Fair Lawn – by Xeroxing simple handouts, distributing them by volunteers, and going door-to-door to talk to our neighbors. We don’t need to sell off New Jersey to buy political office for ourselves, and only lazy cowards will tell you otherwise. The more we sell of New Jersey, the less of New Jersey is left for our children. We need to stop sacrificing our children for the sake of our politicians. We need to start sacrificing certain politicians for the sake of our children. I see a Bergen County Democratic Party that is the guardian of green space and recreational areas for our children. I see a Democratic Party that considers the quality of life for our communities, and not just the potential profit for developers. I see a Democratic Party that leads the fight against pay-to-play and protects every possible penny of the taxpayers’ money.

From where I'm sitting, these are admirable sentiments that should be encouraged, and one would think that after bucking Boss Joe to endorse Weinberg, now-Gov. Corzine would endorse the upstart, but one would be wrong. Gulack reports on the scene from the BCDO meeting where the election was held:

The convention held a number of surprises. As he passed out his campaign statement to incoming committee members, Gulack was personally confronted with statements by Ferriero supporters that appeared to threaten him with physical violence. “Don’t badmouth the Chairman,” one Ferriero supporter repeatedly warned Gulack. “It’s bad luck to badmouth the Chairman.”

Inside the convention, Gulack had been promised, in a May 26, 2006 letter from Chairman Ferriero, that all candidates would be given three minutes to speak. On the morning of the convention, Gulack confirmed on the telephone with Ms. Jackie Grillo, the Bergen County Democratic Organization Executive Director, that, following the nomination process, Gulack would have his three minutes. However, when the nomination process was completed, Gulack was told he would not be allowed to speak. When he mounted the podium anyway, explaining that he had been promised three minutes, Ferriero’s supporters drowned out the speaker with noise and denied him the opportunity to be heard. Chairman Ferriero took no action to bring the convention to order. Fortunately, because Gulack had arrived with hundreds of copies of his speech, he was able to distribute them by hand.

The outcome of this vote was 641 votes for Boss Joe and 77 for Gulack.

Meanwhile, we are now in the throes of a midterm election, one that in New Jersey will see Paul Aronsohn go up against the Christofascist Zombie E. Scott Garrett. Aronsohn has been invisible since the primary other than appearing at fundraisers, kick off his campaign in a midday event that working people will be unable to attend -- on his 40th birthday. I presume one will be expected to bring a gift, because so far Aronsohn's campaign appears to consist of Aronsohn repeating his "public service" mantra while pocketing checks like a bride.

And on the Senate side, Hudson County's own Bob Menendez is going up against the New Jersey equivalent of George W. Bush, Thomas Kean, Jr. Ordinarily I'd be a good soldier in this race and vote for Menendez against Kean without question, but the fact that Menendez is on the fence about net neutrality, AND is so far inclined to support a constitutional amendment against the nonexistent problem of flag burning means that I am no longer sure.

The Democratic Party in this state is in dire need of cleaning up. Even New York has a budget surplus, while New Jersey is quite possibly beyond repair. Jersey Republicans are hardly an alternative; the last two Republican governors we had were Christie Whitman, who got us into this budget mess by cutting taxes without cutting spending and relying on borrowing to balance the budget; and Donald DiFrancesco, who had ethical problems of his own.

So what is a voter to do, when faced with a Democratic party apparatus that's hopelessly corrupt and screws over the progressive Democrats that could finally make changes to the way things are run in this state, and a Republican party in the untenable position of having to run in a moderate state while toeing the line to the wingnuts that are now the national party mainstream?

UPDATE: It isn't just Jersey. Jane Hamsher notes that Chuck Schumer, ironically the head of the DSCC, has said he wouldn't rule out continuing the DSCC's support for Joementum Lieberman if Holy Joe decides to be a sore loser after Ned Lamont kicks his sorry ass in the August primary. As Jane says, this makes the DSCC nothing more than an incumbency protection racket.
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