Identifying what he sees as Democratic State Chairman John Wisniewski’s hamstrung role at the front of a party in turmoil, a committeeman from Somerset wants fellow members to consider a bylaw that would prevent an elected official from also serving as a member of the state party committee.
The suggestion by Joel L. Shain of Bernardsville came in the form of a letter to the party after a direct appeal to Wisniewski of Sayreville, who also serves as a 19th District assemblyman.
On July 14th, Shain sent a letter to Wisniewski.
“It is my view that to continue as both legislator and party chairman while the opposition controls the executive branch is neither in your personal interest nor that of the party,” wrote Shain, a onetime primary opponent of state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) and law partner of Somerset County Democratic Committee Chair Peg Schaffer.
“I believe that you can raise your stature and become the most influential Democrat in New Jersey, provided you jettison the title of Assemblyman. Only then will you be free to fully focus on creating a uniform, well thought out response to those administration policies that are anathema to the party base and harmful to all New Jersey citizens.”
Kicked upstairs to state party chairman as part of the same deal that made Steve Sweeney senate president and Sheila Oliver Assembly Speaker, Wisniewski shook off the request in a conversation with PolitickerNJ.com.
“This was certainly not an issue at any other time in the past,” he said Shain.
Recent party chairs include Joe Cryan, Joe Roberts and Bonnie Watson Coleman, all of whom served simultaneously as members of the assembly.
“It’s not helpful to the party,” Wisniewski said of Shain’s communication. “In the assembly and as party chairman, I have been an advocate for working families; fighting for the millionaire’s tax, women’s health funding and the homebuyers allowance.
“He voted for me six months ago,” the state chairman added.
But Shain in his letter cited a party in meltdown in the new era of GOP Gov. Chris Christie.
“The recent budget/cap debate proved an embarrassment to your supporters like me,” the committeeman wrote to Wisniewski. “As one of many in a rudderless Democratic legislative majority, you were personally left to look powerless and inefficient. As the Party Leader, without the burden of balancing constituent demands and legislative responsibilities, your articulate voice propounding a policy of party unity on issues could have been heard statewide, and not buried in the cacophony of internecine discord.”
Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Franklin Twp.) came to Wisniewski’s aid.
“The very idea,” he said. “Republican Party chairman Jay Webber is also an assemblyman. You can do it if you have the time to do it. He’s (Wisniewski) a new guy. Give him time. He’s take a lot of heat, but we’ll have to judge him based on how well he builds the party We will have to wait until he does his job.”
In a conversation with PolitickerNJ.com, Shain underscored his belief that Wisniewski could be an excellent chairman – if he rejects his assembly seat.
“The party should prohibit dual holding of incompatible offices,” he said. “The duties of these offices clash in their demands. As a legislator, you run as a Democrat or Republican, but once you’re elected, you’re there to serve all the people. The state chair is a spokesman for the Democratic Party. You can’t do both. This is nothing personal against the sitting chairman. The same applies to past chairs who tried to serve both roles. It can’t be done.
“I’m hopeful – in a sober fashion – to persuade the leaders of the party to accept my view,” added Shain, who in his followup July 26th note to committee members presented a suggested amendment to the committee’s by-laws.
Schaffer agrees with him.
“We know John to be a capable guy,” said the Somerset County Democratic chair. “But there appears to be a vacuum in the party right now. You can’t serve two masters.”
Maurice Fitzgibbons, former Hudson County Freeholder, shrugged off the objection to dual role holding.
“They all do it,” Fitzgibbons said.
Another Democrat, speaking on condition of anonymity about the back burner GOP dominant Central Jersey county, groaned, “Somerset.”