Buono v. Vitale?: one scenario could force intra-party Middlesex County showdown

NEW BRUNSWICK – Sources say Democrats yesterday submitted a new map to Prof. Alan Rosenthal that would pit state Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-18) against state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-19) and create a New Brunswick/Perth Amboy legislative district with a Senate vacancy in territory occupied in part by Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) of Sayreville.  

Chair of the Democratic State Committee, Wisniewski also chairs the Democratic Party’s reapportionment committee, and is chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Bunching parts of 19 and 18 together could nudge Buono and Vitale into a Woodbridge versus Edison Democratic Primary, sources said.
The Democrats’ most consistent critic of Gov. Chris Christie along with state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) of Teaneck, Buono is generally viewed as a probable challenger to Christie in 2013. She has regularly disagreed with state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) of West Deptford, another potential gubernatorial prospect for the Democats, who is an ally of powerful South Jersey Democratic Organization leader George Norcross III.

A former chairman of the Senate Health committee, Vitale was among those allies of then-state Senate President Richard Codey (D-27) of Roseland rocked by a broadening of power exercised by the South Jersey Democratic machine, which eliminated Codey in 2009 and elevated Sweeney to the Senate presidency.

Contacted for comment, Vitale said in a statement, “The latest map submitted ironically at the direction of the Democrat chair, puts at risk one of two Senators whose public careers have been in part dedicated to shaping policies that benefit minorities, women and the disenfranchised. It does not enhance opportunities for minorities, and only potentially enhances a political career.”   

The process is still fluid. Members of both the Democratic and Republican redistricting teams were again converging at the Heldrich Hotel this morning and awaiting a response from Rosenthal – the commission’s tiebreaking 11th member – to their latest submissions.   

During the redistricting hearings process, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (LLANJ) publicly testified to the efficacy of creating a legislative district that includes cities Perth Amboy and New Brunswick in order to create an opportunity for more Hispanic representation and a district unified by urban concerns. LLANJ founder Martin Perez acknowledged conversing with Republican Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield) prior to the public hearings process on the prospects of widening minority representation.      

A source said the newest Democratic map contains several changes to the party’s earlier submission. Among those changes, it puts Vineland back into the 1st Legislative District, which would leave the 2nd as a competitive battleground rather than a Democratic lock, which the earlier pairing of Vineland and Atlantic City would have achieved. State Sen. Jim Whelan (D-2) of Atlantic City faces a challenge this year from Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-2) of Egg Harbor Twp.   

The newest Democratic model emerged Tuesday in response to a memo issued by Rosenthal, who in the face of an impasse between Democratic and Republican maps, wants to achieve one map favorable to a majority of commissioners.   Currently, Democrats occupy 24 seats in the Senate and Republicans hold 16. Republicans want to try to pick up several more seats during the redistricting process so that when they head into elections they can make the most of what they hope will at least be dogfights in some key battleground districts to deliver Christie a Republican majority.  

The constitutional deadline for a new legislative map is Sunday, but the teams could vote as early as Friday, according to sources.   Buono v. Vitale?: one scenario could force intra-party Middlesex County showdown