A coalition of minority groups advocating for more minority representation in the state legislature Thursday applauded a reported plan out of the redistricting process that would create a new district by merging Perth Amboy and New Brunswick.
The district would pit sitting Democratic Senators Barbara Buono and Joe Vitale against each other in a primary and has been roundly panned by progressives.
“Through the efforts of our broad coalition, we have started a debate among Commission members to consider a more diverse map for the State of New Jersey, consistent with the Voting Rights Act,” said Christian Estevez, member of the New Jersey Legislative Redistricting Coalition and Executive Vice President of the Latino Action Network. “We believe our efforts as a coalition to advocate for more opportunities for minorities in the redistricting process is unprecedented.”
According to the coalition, bringing together communities of interest in the cities of New Brunswick, currently District 17, and Perth Amboy, now in District 19, is consistent with the goal of increasing opportunities for minority representation.
But while the coalition supports the move, sources close to the redistricting process say it is unlikely to happen. News of the proposal was met with accusations and carping by Democrats outside the redistricting process and sources say it has been taken off the table.
Democrats hope to achieve the goal of increasing minorities in the legislature in other ways, including moving Hawthorne, home of state Sen. John Girgenti, out of the 35th District, creating room for Hispanic Assemblywoman Nellie Pou to move to the upper chamber.
The potential Buono-Vitale face-off caused uproar in Democratic circles yesterday as party faithful, including Vitale, accused commission members of trying to feather their own nests at the expense of others. Vitale was particularly incensed at Assemblyman John Wisniewski, the state Democratic chairman and the leader of the party’s redistricting team.
“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,” Vitale said in a statement.
On Thursday, a group of about 100 Democrats signed a letter to Wisniewski, decrying the potential Middlesex district.
“Democrats at every level of government are aligning themselves with Governor Christie’s regressive policies – Barbara Buono and Joe Vitale are not among them,” read the letter signed by, among others Newark City Council Representatives Ronald C. Rice and Mildred Crump. “They are fighting for our working families and the interests of the middle class. This is a direct attack on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to remove the first female Senate Majority Leader. We urge you to reconsider this action and to not move forward with a map pitting Senators Buono and Vitale against each other. Democrats throughout New Jersey are watching and prepared to organize along this issue if this map moves forward.”
Commission members are set to vote on the map Sunday at noon.