Essex County GOP Chairman Al Barlas got out of his car Tuesday and sauntered into a diner on the ragged airport drift edges of Newark.
Inside he met Kevin Jenkins, husband of Newark Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, a Baraka Team member turned off-the-reservation city hall denizen and Phil Murphy for Governor consort.
Jenkins had summoned the chairman there on business.
Booted out of the Baraka Administration, Jenkins, a longtime (and long-suffering, given the politics of Essex County) Republican from Newark, told Barlas he wanted to replace him as chair of the county Republican Party.
The entreaty came on the heels of a Monday meeting Jenkins had with a GOP municipal chair in which Chaneyfield Jenkins and former Mayor Sharpe James were also in attendance. At that meeting, Jenkins told the chair he had the votes to take down the sitting chairman.
Face to face with him in the eatery, a flabbergasted Barlas told Jenkins – and this is according to Barlas’s recollection of the meeting – that he intended to run again that same night and expected to win without any trouble. Barlas has been holding his party together with duct tape, bubble gum and rubber bands in the most Democratic county in the state. He figured he’d earned another tour of duty.
But Jenkins supposedly pressed him.
He’d make him executive director – a paid position.
The committee hasn’t paid anyone for that job in recent years.
“I’m not for sale,” Barlas told him, and that was pretty much it.
The chair didn’t know what to expect when he went to that night’s reorganization meeting, but Jenkins ended up not showing and the incumbent won his leadership position again with the county committee’s unanimous support.
Sources familiar with Jenkins say his movements have nothing to do with his wife’s efforts on behalf of Murphy, that it’s simply a case of power couple politics operating in individual spheres of influence and ambition.
But it may have to do with survival tactics for the councilwoman, or so posited Barlas.
“I believe this was an act by desperate people looking for relevance,” the chair told PolitickerNJ. He noted that Jenkins reminded him that Chaneyfiueld once endorsed Republican County Executive Jim Treffinger and burnished his own party bona fides.
“Either she’s a Republican at heart or they were trying to take over the Republican Party as a way of building value with Ras Baraka, so he doesn’t remove her from the ticket in 2018 as he removed Kevin from his job,” Barlas said. “Either way the county committee is not for sale.”