Yes, I can most certainly blame Jay Lassiter for many things; first and foremost amongst these for applying for a delegate position that he never had any intention to earn, particularly considering how hard so many of the people supporting Bernie Sanders, gay straight, and otherwise, were working to send as many of his delegates from New Jersey to the Democratic National Convention as possible. At the same time that Joshua Levin was working as Peter Jacob’s campaign manager, he was also one of the hardest-working volunteers for Bernie Sanders in the state. Despite all this and all of the DNC’s and NJDSC’s demographic requirements that our delegation had to satisfy, being gay did not help Joshua make the cut in his delegate district or even as an at-large delegate, because if there was one required demographic that the Sanders campaign had in abundance, it was members of the LGBT community.
Even though the leadership of HRC and other establishment LGBT organizations have been in Hillary Clinton’s back pocket since day one, despite the glacially slow pace of her evolution (The Ramapo Mountain People started using cell phone technology before she stopped thinking that gay marriage was icky) on marriage equality while Bernie Sanders was one of the few Democrats to vote against DOMA back in 1996, the rank-and-file membership of the LGBT community has been more than savvy enough to know who their true friend has been for the past few decades.
So no, there was no tokenism involved in Jay Lassiter being chosen to be a delegate candidate and later a delegate, even though he had never done anything to deserve the former and continued to do absolutely nothing to deserve the latter. There are some people in New Jersey politics who make a name for themselves by being well-liked and others who make a name for themselves by being accomplished and Jay is most certainly the former rather than the latter. As far as Jay’s hatchet job on Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the Chairman of the New Jersey for Bernie Sanders campaign is concerned, the narrative that he presents is easy to construct when you cherry-pick your quotes, but anyone who has actually witnessed the New Jersey for Bernie Sanders campaign unfold as it has over the last year-plus as I have can tell you that the assessments made by Jay and Alex Law’s handpicked loyalists are as far from the truth as anything that has come out of Donald Trump’s mouth.
As the person who created the New Jersey for Bernie Sanders Facebook group and coordinated the creation of many other county and local groups, both real-time and virtual, I have seen the ebbs and flows of grassroots enthusiasm throughout this roller coaster ride of a primary election season and it most certainly peaked during the period time between when John Wisniewski endorsed and the early April filing deadline when over the period of under two weeks, we were not only able to get Bernie Sanders and his entire slate of delegates on the ballot, but we were also able to bracket them with county-level candidates in 18 out of 21 counties; an effort that probably saved our campaign from losing by an even larger margin, possibly bordering on the threshold of viability. This accomplishment was a testament to the commitment and dedication of hundreds, if not thousands of volunteers combined with the leadership of John Wisniewski and the braintrust of legal and political experience that he was able to bring to the table. This is why Jay Lassiter’s “take” on a campaign effort that he was regularly invited to participate in and never seemed to find the time or desire to do so, primarily because it didn’t involve activities that sufficiently satisfied his overwhelmingly massive ego, is the most offensive aspect of his recent article. When Jay writes that “John Wisniewski’s decision to bracket Bernie on the ballot with incompetent, absentee Democrats was bad for the Sanders campaign and his supporters and his delegates.” and “The candidates he chose didn’t lift a finger to get any votes.” (pot meet kettle), he proves how little he knows about political campaigning in New Jersey. All someone has to do is look at the data from the Lautenberg/Andrews senatorial primary election campaign (this was a race that Jay was actively involved in as a member of Team Andrews/Norcross, which later led him to get a job working on the Adler/Norcross congressional general election campaign, proving that Jay doesn’t really have a problem with the Norcross machine as long as there is a paycheck involved) to realize how essential bracketing is to getting as many votes as possible. During that cycle, Lautenberg was bracketed in Burlington County, where he lost by approximately 10 percentage points, but was not bracketed in Camden and Gloucester Counties where he lost by over 25 percentage points.
Jay also proves how little he knows about the county-level candidates in question, primarily because he never spent any time doing anything for the Bernie Sanders campaign, so he never would have had the chance to meet any of these people and see firsthand how much blood, sweat, and tears they were putting in to get votes for Bernie Sanders. While some were most certainly running serious campaigns and most were just bracketed with Bernie to ensure that he got the best possible ballot position, even the most serious of Bernie’s county-level candidates were far more focused on helping Bernie than helping themselves.
Then, Jay delves into the world of comedy when he writes that “Wiz’s meddling gave the distinct, noxious impression that those bracketing efforts were designed to ensure Wiz’s “good friend” Donald Norcross – bracketed with Hillary – won as comfortably as possible. And all the man-splaining in the world won’t me dispel of that notion.” The most laughable aspect of his “notion” is that Wiz is going to have the New Jersey for Bernie Sanders campaign bracket with county-level candidates in 18 out of 21 counties so that it would help Donald Norcross, whose district is in all of one of those counties and parts of two more, win as comfortably as possible.
If that was Wiz’s devious plan, wouldn’t the Camden County Clerk have been in on the plan as well and instead of determining ballot position by selecting from the various freeholder candidates, which led to Bernie having the 2nd ballot position in Camden County and Hillary having the 3rd ballot position, he would have determined ballot position by selecting from the presidential candidates, something that was done in numerous counties, which would have guaranteed Norcross no worse than the 2nd position and Law no better than 3rd position? The only thing that prevented Law from having a better ballot position than either Bernie or Hillary was the luck of the draw. I don’t know if this qualifies as man-splaining, but I think that it is pretty obvious by the results of the drawing that the County Clerk played it straight for once. I know that I was shocked when I learned of the results.
As far as the decision to not have Bernie bracket with congressional candidates is concerned, that decision came from the national campaign and the national campaign alone. Maybe if Jay had actually involved himself in the campaign to any meaningful degree, he would have learned this firsthand. But doing actual campaign work is something that is now beneath Jay and his monstrous ego. Before I learned that Alex Law was working against the Sanders campaign by trying to throw our Camden County Freeholder candidates off the ballot, which would have stuck Bernie in the 6th position and probably would have cost him tens of thousands of votes there and who knows how many delegates, especially since Law’s campaign was driving Donald Norcross to spend more money and turnout more voters than he normally would, I would have most certainly advocated for Bernie to bracket with him as well as Bernie-inspired candidates like Richard McFarlane, Jim Keady, and Peter Jacob (before his opponent dropped out and he was left unopposed and awarded the party line throughout CD7).
However, when these decisions were being made in late March, the national campaign did not have the bandwidth to start vetting Bernie-inspired congressional candidates from all over the country and until they decided to endorse Zephyr Teachout, Pramila Jayapal, and Lucy Flores in mid-April and Tim Canova in May, the policy had been to not endorse any of them, which any reasonable person might understand. Clearly, neither the narcissistic, opportunistic, faux-progressive man-child, Alex Law, nor the self-absorbed egomaniac, Jay Lassiter, are what qualifies as reasonable people, which is why we continue to see hatchet jobs like the one that Jay wrote, sourced with cherry-picked Alex Law acolytes and a conservative blogger transformed into a progressive for the sake of providing a juicy quote. The fact of the matter is that if John Wisniewski and the rest of us were guilty of anything, it was of being too deferential to the national campaign staff that parachuted into New Jersey shortly thereafter.
Robert Dempsey, the state campaign director, and his team of mostly out-of-state volunteers were all very good at running the national campaign’s playbook, which worked exceptionally in some places, like Minnesota and Wisconsin, where Dempsey led the Bernie faithful to hugely important victories, and not so well in other places. The fact of the matter is that even someone as good and as experienced as Dempsey is going to be overmatched when put up against people like Steve Ayscue and the rest of the all-star team that the Democratic establishment in NJ put together to run the Clinton campaign on their home turf. Put Dempsey et al up against Ayscue et al on a neutral site like a Plains or Rust Belt state and it would have been a fair fight, but the only way that Bernie Sanders would have ever had a chance to seriously compete in New Jersey is if his national campaign staff would have allowed our state campaign to be run by its best local talent from day one and that was never going to happen, because it didn’t happen anywhere in the country. This blindspot that the national campaign had when it came to preferring its own talent to local talent was particularly problematic in states with closed primaries and glaringly idiosyncratic rules like New York’s October deadline for party affiliation declarations.
Timing is everything in politics and one of the greatest challenges faced by late in the calendar primary election campaigns is the struggle to balance the pull from other states to help them win with the push to move forward with what they need to do to win their own state. Our team was clicking on all cylinders during the weeks leading up to the April 4 filing deadline and if we would have been able to focus solely on winning New Jersey during the entire month of April, there can be no doubt that our margin of loss would have been significantly different.
Unfortunately, the national campaign staff and their ability to acquire campaign materials and set up campaign headquarters around the state was a work in progress throughout the month and did not really begin to scale up until after the New York primary and even by then, we were left with crumbs compared to all of the resources (candidate time, manpower, and money) that were dedicated towards winning California, which is understandable considering the far greater potential bang for its buck that the campaign could have gotten from a big win there compared to New Jersey where the difference between a ten-point loss and a ten-point victory in terms of its impact on the delegate scoreboard would have been negligible.
Between the constantly shifting gears between local fieldwork and national support and the impact that the loss in New York had, it is reasonable to expect a certain degree of anomie to set in amongst Bernie supporters and the communications infrastructure, which was based solely in Burlington (VT, not County) and afforded local staff little to no control over strategies and tactics. Thus, even as local activists, advisors, and leaders provided staff with a consistent supply of constructive feedback, ideas, and intel, they were often hamstrung in their efforts to call an audible by the national campaign’s playbook and their limited access to their own campaign’s communications infrastructure.
Everybody involved in the New Jersey for Bernie Sanders campaign did the best that they could under less than optimal circumstances in a virtually unwinnable battle against well-oiled political machines with nearly unlimited resources and an all-star team of some of the best campaign operatives in the state, running the show on their home turf. Yes, we got beat by well over twenty percentage points and was only able to claim a little under 40% of the delegates in the state. Yet, we will still be going to Philadelphia with one of the largest Bernie delegations in the country and if the pundits at PolitickerNJ wanted to be fair, they should award John Wisniewski with their Politician of the Year award right now for doing everything possible to ensure the viability of a state campaign that until he endorsed and became its campaign chairman may not have been, even with the best efforts of its grassroots supporters.
Before John took the reins, none of us could ever get anyone on the national campaign staff to return our calls. We were flying blind as a myriad of national grassroots entities, found mostly on Facebook and claiming to have contacts in Burlington, were spamming us on a daily basis with all sorts of nonsense that had little to do with winning in Iowa or New Hampshire and absolutely nothing to do with winning in New Jersey. If John and his braintrust had not entered the mix, the Ballot Brigade would have parachuted in, gotten 2,000 signatures to put Bernie on the ballot, and then flew out even faster without giving the slightest thought about ballot position and bracketing. The national campaign staff would have eventually come in at the end of April or beginning of May and would have done the best that they could, but I don’t think that a state director as good as Dempsey would have been assigned to New Jersey if we didn’t have a superdelegate like John Wisniewski on our side. Without John, we may not have cracked 20% of the vote statewide and probably would have lost all of the delegates in all of the most delegate-rich delegate districts. Instead of claiming nearly 40% of the delegates in the state, we might have had less than 20%.
And for all of his hard work on behalf of Bernie Sanders, John Wisniewski gets purged from the DNC by the NJDSC, which talks about unity out of one side of its mouth and retribution out of the other. And after being stabbed in the back by people who he thought were his friends, those knives get turned further by people like Jay Lassiter and Alex Law’s acolytes who think that the way that he was treated by the NJDSC is just desserts, because he was not willing to put Alex Law’s quixotic quest to play David against Goliath Norcross ahead of the constituents who depend on him to be an effective representative for them in Trenton and the millions of people throughout our state who depend on one of its few honest politicians to be able to advocate for their issues of concern like a $15/hour minimum wage (right now, not in 2021), the replenishment of the Transportation Trust Fund and the tens of thousands of jobs that it represents, and many other important issues that mirror those that Bernie Sanders has been fighting for throughout his Presidential campaign. None of this matters to people like Jay and Alex, because they think that you take down a political machine like the Norcross machine by cutting off its head. What they fail to understand is that even though Donald Norcross is a congressman and may even become a senator, he will never be the head of the Norcross machine. The head of the Norcross machine is George Norcross and its central nervous and circulatory systems are the patronage contracts and jobs that are doled out by elected officials at the local and county level. That is where the money comes from to elect and re-elect his bloc of South Jersey State Assemblypersons and State Senators, which is large enough to control everything that happens in Trenton.
Even if Alex Law would have miraculously defeated Donald Norcross and was able to get enough votes without the help of the Norcross machine to defeat his Republican opponent in November, it would not have been the beginning of the end of the Norcross machine. It would have just made Boss George angry enough to win control over even more municipalities, counties, and legislative districts and he would have, because all of Alex Law’s acolytes would have quickly discovered that he was far too busy raising money for his own re-election in 2018 to help them organize municipal, county, and legislative campaigns.
The simple fact that neither Jay Lassiter nor Alex Law will ever understand is that the only way that the Norcross machine and any of the other lesser political machines in New Jersey will ever be defeated is when progressives are more interested in working than talking and are willing to start from the ground up, winning county committee elections and municipal elections and building on those victories to win county elections and once they have built up a critical mass of success at these levels, they can start competing for congressional and legislative seats and maybe one day, a senatorial seat or gubernatorial office. Progressives have to be committed enough to these goals and objectives to be willing to sustain a decade of losses before they can even think about stringing together a decade or more of wins. Heck, even before Norcross was able to take control of Trenton in 2010, he lost big behind Jim Florio in 2000 and Rob Andrews in 2008.
Even the Bernie Sanders political revolution was never going to be won in a single presidential election cycle. However, what a victory would have done, more than achieve any of his policy goals and objectives, which probably would not have happened until his second term, following a massive re-election campaign that would have swept in enough state legislatures to redistrict the House back into some degree of competitiveness, is put the country and the Democratic Party back onto the trajectory that it was put on by the likes of FDR and LBJ until it was taken off course in recent decades.