Ballot lines deliver for incumbents
Deputy Nicolas Chiaravalloti – a Bayonne Democrat and self-proclaimed government geek who remembers staring in wonder at the curtains and levers of the voting machines of his youth – recently explained to me why his five-year term in the legislature was coming to an abrupt end .
He started the year ready to ask voters in the 31st Legislative District of Bayonne and Jersey City for a fourth term. He planned to brag about his efforts to fund education at all levels and tackle transportation issues.
But he withdrew from the race before it started. The scandal did not drive him away. The lack of campaign money either. He gave up his race simply because of opposition from an influential figure – The mayor of Bayonne Jimmy Davis.
Davis refused to support Chiaravalloti’s candidacy – in Byzantine rules of Hudson County political tradition, it amounted to a career death sentence. Davis’s refusal to sign Chiaravalloti’s nomination meant the three-term Assembly member would be forced to run without the endorsement of the powerful Hudson County Democratic Organization. He would be denied the coveted spot on the ballot, or party line, along with other HCDO-backed candidates.
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Blocked from the party line, Chiaravalloti had virtually no chance of winning. Indeed, his career in the Legislature was cut short by the “whim of a guy who doesn’t need to justify or answer the question ‘Why? “”
“He (Davis) never told me why. All he said was, ‘You know why and I don’t have to tell you because I’m the mayor,’ Chiaravalloti said. .
“Good, Frank The Hague long dead. This response was therefore not satisfactory, ”he said, referring to the legendary mayor of Jersey City who presided over Hudson County politics from the 1920s to the 1940s.
Davis declined to comment.
The episode looms like Play A in what Progressive Reformers say is an archaic remnant of Tammany Hall politics – or more specifically, Frank Hague politics. The “row”, or preferred voting position, practically assures the victory of the candidates chosen by the party and put in brackets on the same organizational column.
Those who do not gain support or fall out of favor with the leaders of departmental organizations often find themselves placed in a “ballot box in Siberia”, a remote corner of the ballot and often without running mates. This is the land of horseflies, marginal candidates and And this is where Chiaravalloti was destined to be placed if he decided to pull through.
Chiaravalloti, who was State Director of Senator Bob Menendez, knew the issues. He benefited from the party-machine system during his first three campaigns in the Assembly. Yet critics say Chiaravalloti’s experience is perhaps the clearest – and most egregious – example of abuse of the boss system.
“Forget the record (of Chiaravallotti), it’s as close to a dictatorship as you can get,” said Julia Sass Rubin, a director of the Good Government Project in New Jersey, which has long advocated for reform of the ballot. “If you want to be re-elected, you have to please this elected official who holds your re-election in his hands. But the voters have no responsibility.”
The line is also a way for county party officials to maintain discipline, especially with incumbents.
No outgoing New Jersey lawmaker running for the county line on Tuesday has lost a primary in 12 years, according to Rubin. Meanwhile, the outcome in other states with more competitive primary systems is radically different.
Five incumbents lost the Virginia primary on Tuesday and 154 incumbents in the legislature lost across the country in the 2020 primary, Rubin said.
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Organizational candidates had a big night on Tuesday, as planned.
In the Democratic primary for the seat of the Senate of the 37th Legislative District, backed by the machine MP Gordon Johnson overtaken his rival Deputy Valérie Vainieri Huttle, who campaigned against the establishment and lambasted the injustice inherent in the line system.
In the 13th Borough of Monmouth County, Republican MP Serena DiMaso was removed from office after falling out with Republican Party boss and county sheriff Shaun Golden. She lost her offline candidacy for the appointment as President of the Holmdel School Board Vicky Flynn.
In the 26th arrondissement, veteran MP BettyLou DeCroce lost his re-election after failing to secure the blessing of the Morris County Republican Party, which established the party line system for the first time this year.
Candidates supported by the party Jay webber and Christian Barranco, a former Pompton Lakes city councilor now living in Jefferson Township will run together in the November ballot.
A long way to go for reform
Tuesday’s result illustrated the long reform work that progressives face. Legislators, beneficiaries of the system, have no interest in reforming it, and Governor Phil Murphy, the self-proclaimed progressive, turned out to be no ally.
Murphy not only ran the line in every county, but – in one of the election’s most ironic twists and turns – endorsed machine-backed candidates including Johnson in the 37th district.
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Johnson was part of a well-funded coordinated campaign campaign with allies of the Democratic Party leader of South Jersey George Norcross, once a bitter political enemy for the governor. Murphy had sought to weaken Norcross’s influence on Democratic New Jersey politics. On Tuesday, however, Murphy gave him the power.
Some activists believe Tuesday’s results could strengthen their position in the long run. The Chiaravalloti saga, along with the experiences in District 37 and the DiMaso spill in Monmouth, could serve as useful evidence in a federal lawsuit filed last year, seeking to strike down the system as unconstitutional and undemocratic.
Legal watchers following the lawsuit, however, warn that Tuesday’s races may not have much of an impact. United States District Court Judge Freda L. Wolfson will soon decide, for procedural reasons, to close the case or to let it continue.
But others note that the internal party line struggle comes against a national backdrop of protecting and expanding access to ballots following the contested presidential election last November.
And they also believe that at the bare minimum, they have long and long ago drawn public and political attention to an archaic process.
“Politically, there are enough people talking about it, and Democrats and Republicans realize that the time is right for change,” Chiaravalloti said. “It won’t benefit me, but it will benefit democracy if we have fairer, more competitive primaries.”
Charlie Stile is a veteran political columnist. For unlimited access to his unique knowledge of New Jersey’s political power structure and his powerful watchdog work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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