Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono announced today that Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie will be the new state party chairman.
In a joint statement with Senate President Steve Sweeney, Buono said her choice for chairman, Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell would step aside as would opposition candidate Sen. Ray Lesniak, in favor of Currie.
The announcement comes a day before the state committee was set to vote on its next chairman.
Buono had been at open war with her party over the choice of O’Donnell, who Sweeney and others said would divide the party.
“In the interest of party unity, Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell and Senator Ray Lesniak have agreed to rescind their candidacies for chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee (NJDSC). Passaic County Chairman John Currie has graciously accepted the position and will be the next leader of the NJDSC,” Sweeney and Buono said in the joint statement.
Reached after the announcement was made, Lesniak said he was torn between relief and disappointment.
“I’m relieved,” Lesniak said. “Though I do have mixed emotions because the party will not have the benefit of what I could have done for it. Nobody has a better track record than I have of leading the Democratic party through difficult times.”
Asked if he would do a better job than Currie, Lesniak replied that he would perform better than anyone in the state at the job.
“I’ve proved that in the past,” he said.
O’Donnell called it a good day for the party and praised Currie as an elder statesman.
“John Currie is a man of impeccable Democratic credentials, who is highly capable of shepherding the party through this troubled time,” he said. “We are belssed to have John at the helm and to have this behind us and I look forward to a big win in November, not just for Sen. Buono but for all our legislative candidates as well.”
Buono had received weeks of pushback from party leaders on the choice of O’Donnell, because of the Hudson County Assemblyman’s participation in an attempt last year to overthrow Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. The coup, led by Union County Assemblyman Joe Cryan, was over Oliver’s support of pension and benefit reform.
Sweeney and other had warned Buono that choosing O’Donnell would splinter the party. Last week, Sen. Ray Lesniak emerged as a candidate for the chairmanship with the backing of Sweeney, Oliver and more than three dozen Democratic leaders including South Jersey power broker George Norcross.
Both sides claimed to have the committee votes to push their candidate through however, behind the scenes negotiations were taking place to install Currie, a consenses candidate many said should have been Buono’s pick from the start.
Currie initially said he had no interest in the job, but told party leaders behind the scenes that if asked to unify the party, he would accept the job.
The full text of the statement from Buono and Sweeney is below:
“Today, we talked and determined that the issues that bind us together are far stronger than any disagreements. The Democratic Party has long been a champion for working and middle class families and this year’s election is far too important to allow party in-fighting to affect our ability to help them. Our focus must be on defeating Governor Christie and winning elections up and down the ticket.
“In the interest of party unity, Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell and Senator Ray Lesniak have agreed to rescind their candidacies for chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee (NJDSC). Passaic County Chairman John Currie has graciously accepted the position and will be the next leader of the NJDSC.
“By removing themselves from contention for State Chair, Assemblyman O’Donnell and Senator Lesniak continue to exhibit the qualities that make them tremendous leaders within the Democratic Party. They understand that compromise is a necessary and important part of a vibrant democracy and both will work hard to ensure that Democrats win across the state in November.”