Big names square off in Essex County Dem primary

Some prominent Essex County Democrats will do battle on the Feb. 5th primary ballot to represent their presidential candidates at the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver. But their names won’t be at the top of the ticket, and outright victory or loss hinges on three people named Clinton, Edwards or Obama.

In the 14th delegate district, which is composed of the 26th and 27th legislative districts, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s team of candidates consists of Orange Rev. (and Clinton Campaign fundraising Co-Chair) Reginald Jackson, Essex County Freeholder Pat Sebold, Essex County Executive Chief of Staff Phil Alagia, and South Orange Councilwoman Stacey Jennings.

Sen. John Edwards’ full team in the 14th is made up of Sen. President (and former Gov.) Richard Codey, his fellow 14th district legislators, Assemblyman (and West Orange Mayor) John McKeon and Assemblyman Mila Jasey; and Elaine Britcher of Morris Plains.

Orange Councilman Donald Page leads the lower key Barack Obama delegate candidates, including Glyniss Forbes of South Orange, Melvin F. Williams of South Orange, and Naomi A. Michaelis of West Orange.

As in the 19 other delegate districts, a portion of the delegate candidates will appear on the ballot underneath their respective presidential candidates. If a voter registers a vote for Clinton, for example, he automatically votes for Jackson, Sebold and the other Clinton delegate candidates.

Just because a presidential candidate fails to win on Feb. 5th does not mean his New Jersey surrogates cannot be delegates to the national convention. In all 20 delegate districts, there are 238 delegate candidates, including some of those party members who have pledged themselves to candidates besides the three frontrunners, or who are unpledged. In effect, there are 20 mini elections throughout the state on Election Day.

At a state party convention in April, when the party is presumably certain of its presidential nominee, additional delegates will be added to the winning team’s delegation in each district, provided the presidential candidates of those additional delegates met at least a 15% threshold per district in the Feb. 5th New Jersey primary.

The New Jersey delegation will number 127 delegates composed of an equal number of men and women and 18 alternates.

Codey committed early to Edwards because he said he believes the former North Carolina senator and vice presidential candidate stands the best chance of winning the general election. On Monday evening, Codey and Edwards staffers will lead a conference call of Edwards’ supporters looking for direction on how to get organized in New Jersey.

“We also will discuss opportunities to volunteer in New Hampshire, to see John and Elizabeth when they’re in that state and new ways you can volunteer right from your home,” Codey wrote in an email to supporters.

Page said the Obama campaign approached him to be a delegate and after some deliberation he was happy to oblige.

“It was initially a tough choice because I think all three of the Democratic candidates are good,” said Page, a congregant of St. Matthews Church, where Jackson is the pastor.

A onetime ally of troubled Orange Mayor (and disgraced former Assemblyman) Mims Hackett – a key Codey ally in Orange – Page broke from the lawmaker long before Hackett was charged with corruption in federal court earlier this year.

“I’ve mostly been against him because of the conflict of interests caused by his being a dual office holder,” said Page, who hopes to succeed Hackett as Orange’s mayor in May of 2008.

Running as an independent, Page mounted a Quixotic campaign against Codey in 2001 and lost and now he’s running against him again as both men back different presidential candidates. “I’m not going to knock Senator Codey because I have a great deal of respect for him,” said Page, who supports Obama because the candidate is African American and, in Page’s view, as experienced as anyone else in the field.

Essex County Freeholder Sebold has attended every Democratic Party Convention save one since she ran as a Sen. Edward Kennedy delegate in 1980, when she stood on her seat in excitement to hear Kennedy vow in his loss, “The work goes on, the hope endures, and the dream will never die.”

“I have always liked her,” Sebold said of Clinton. “I liked where she stands on the issues. I think she got a bad rap when President Clinton gave her the job on healthcare in his first term. I respect her, and I think she’s a strong person. I don’t understand these people who think she’s opportunistic and calculating. How does a man get to run for president unless he has those characteristics? Yes, I think she’ll win in New Jersey and she will make a great president.”

Whatever happens on Feb. 5th, it’s impossible to picture any of these diehard party players backing anyone but the Democrat in the race for president.

“Over time you learn in politics you have to work with both parties, of course,” said Page. “At times I disagreed with the Democratic Party, because a man is not a party. A man is an individual. The main thing always was I wanted to run. I ran against Sen Codey, there was no animosity. But I couldn’t be a Republican. That party is too conservative.”

Big names square off in Essex County Dem primary