Like Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), state Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1) wanted another choice for state party chair – and remains hopeful of a change.
“You really should have a chair that unites the party,” said Van Drew. “I wish we could have reached consensus.”
Presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor state Sen. Barbara Buono chose Assemblyman O’Donnell (D-31) to serve as state party chair.
A firefighter married to a school teacher, O’Donnell strenuously resisted Sweeney’s public worker pension and benefits overhaul championed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
The issue revealed the deep divisions between so-called public and private unions.
Sweeney is an ironworker by trade whose efforts to get public workers to contribute more to their pension and benefits made him infamous in the hardest core public union circles.
Van Drew said Buono’s decision to pick O’Donnell unnecessarily opens that old party wound.
“It hearkens back to the days when there was more friction and factionlism in the party,” said the 1st District senator, a member of the South Jersey Democratic Party family headed in the Legislature by Sweeney.
A supporter of pen/ben reform, Van Drew insisted his resistance to O’Donnell isn’t personal.
“He’s not able to galvanize the party,” the senator said.
Van Drew doesn’t want a civil war to stop O’Donnell, but he said he remains hopeful of Buono sitting down with party leaders and reconsidering her choice.
Ultimately, the senator pointed out that for him the chair is not crucial, because he acts very independently in his district.
Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34) was another Democrat stung by Buono’s selection of O’Donnell, a frontline member of a caucus coup against her.
Today, a source close to the speaker said Oliver is questioning the degree she intends to involve herself in Buono’s campaign.
So is U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr., (D-10), a close ally of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s, whose organization helped elect Payne last year.
Over the last few weeks, Oliver in particular has been a vocal backer of Buono’s, particularly in connection with women’s issues.