Hudson County Democratic Organization Chairman Mark Smith’s endorsement of state Sen. Nia Gill, (D-34), Montclair, in the 10th Congressional District Democratic Primary rankled U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, (D-NJ), according to sources familiar with the phone call Menendez placed to Smith.
The senator’s ire stemmed from Menendez’s perception of Essex County angst over Smith’s decision to buck the Essex establishment and endorse Gill instead of organization pick Newark Council President Donald Payne Jr. Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo wanted Smith to back Payne, not Gill.
When Smith backed Gill, DiVincenzo erupted, placing a phone call to the HCDO chairman and telling him he should rethink his selection. Smith said he didn’t intend to change his mind, reiterating his support for Gill, an ally of state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, (D-31), Jersey City, and state Sen. Ray Lesniak, (D-20), Elizabeth.
At one point, Team DiVincenzo got a message to Smith that if he contributed to intra-party strife by backing Gill over Payne, then he could expect Essex Democrats to spend resources in the primary that would be better served to help Menendez in the general election.
But Smith would not back down. Amid buzz that he would reverse his decision to back Gill, Smith sent a statement to PolitickerNJ.com doubling down on his selection.
Then came the Menendez phone call.
The senator told Smith the chairman was wrong to antagonize Essex.
An Essex source admitted to PolitickerNJ.com that threats of Essex sitting on its hands in the general election would have zero impact in an election year in which President Barack Obama appears at the top of the ballot.