Over the brutal fight for Democratic Party Chairman of Middlesex County this week hangs the specter of another party chairmanship: that of the state party and its occupancy by a Sayreville presence who irritated his upper house colleagues earlier this year and now can’t shake their ire heading into clutch time.
Still stinging from what they describe as a backroom power grab initiated by State Party Chairman/Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-17) of Sayreville, state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-19) and state Sen. Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-18) last week wrote to committee members attempting “to set the record straight,” in their words, in the context of this latest intra-party war to be settled tomorrow night.
Vitale staunchly stands with Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac and others who back labor leader Kevin McCabe to take over a county chairmanship vacated when Joe Spicuzzo turned himself into authorities on bribery charges.
Lining up on the opposing side of the battle line with state Sen. Bob Smith of Piscataway, Monroe Mayor Richard Pucci and others, Wisniewski supports former Assemblyman Peter Barnes of Edison.
Sources say Buono – a ticket-mate of Barnes’ son, was trying to stay as neutral as she could, or at least remain only quietly supportive of McCabe, mostly not to rankle the Barneses.
But the Wisniewski factor – and a letter critical of McCormac written by Sayreville Party Chair Tom Pollando – budged the Senate majority leader more solidly into the McCabe corner, said a party source, even as she and Vitale kept the focus on the state party chairman and not specifically the dichotomy of Barnes/McCabe.
According to the senators in a June 9th letter, Wisniewski, as a member of the redistricting commission, attempted to create his own district, a move that would have forced Buono and Vitale to collide.
In an effort to line Sayreville up behind Barnes, Pollando said Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, a prime backer of McCabe’s, and McCabe, “led an effort to embarrass Assemblyman John Wisniewski at the recent convention that selected our legislative candidates.”
“Actually, none of that is true,” Buono and Vitale wrote. “The truth is that the Woodbridge Committee members abstained from voting for the Assemblyman as a way to express their displeasure with him and his attempt to destroy one of our Senate careers.”
Woodbridge Committee members abstained from supporting Wisniewski’s re-election as an Assembly candidate as a way of expressing their disapproval.
“During the statewide redistricting process… Wisniewski… formally proposed a new map that would have pitted us against one another in a convention or primary. It was an effort to redesign the 18th and 19th Legislative Districts and put Woodbridge (part of District 19) with Edison and Metuchen (parts of District 18) together as one new district. What made matters more deceiving was that the balance of a new majority of towns that were previously part of our districts would have been used to create a new district that included Assemblyman Wisniewski’s hometown of Sayreville. It was an obvious effort to create a new Senate seat for himself at our expense. Fortunately, he was unsuccessful in his efforts.”
Neither Pollando nor Wisniewski was available for comment.
Middlesex sources close to Wisniewski insist the state party chairman didn’t deviously set out to tomahawk Buono and Vitale so much as find himself in a position in which both Latinos and 11th Redistricting member Alan Rosenthal demanded a district with a minority population uptick.
Neither Vitale nor Buono and their allies ever accepted that explanation. Vitale pointed out that only a small percentage of Latinos enhanced Winiewski’s proposed – and ultimately unsuccessful – district fusing Perth Amboy and New Brunswick.
“It went from 31 to 36% minority,” said the Woodbridge senator.
In the aftermath of writing the letter in response to Pollando, Vitale said he wanted to be clear that more than opposing Wisniewski, he supports McCabe for Dem chairman.
“The letter by Pollando merely reinforces the reasons why the party needs new leadership,” he told PolitickerNJ.com.
The Barnes faction has at times dismissed McCabe as a former inner circle acolyte of the melted down Jim McGreevey era, and continually questioned McCormac’s alliance with Gov. Chris Christie.
“Who didn’t work for Jim McGreevey?” said Vitale. “As for John McCormac (who resoundingly prevailed in last week’s Democratic Primary), people want to tie someone to Kevin to demonize him. The fact is John McCormac is a great mayor. Unfortunately, Jon Corzine didn’t win Woodbridge. Well, he didn’t win a lot of other Middlesex towns either. The bottom line is some power brokers on the other side are worried about losing their grip on power and money and it’s sad.”