Sanity prevailed in a decision by the state legislative redistricting committee last weekend to support Democratic maps that would largely leave legislative districts unchanged.
Federal, state, and freeholder districts are required to change their boundaries to reflect changes in population, as shown by the most recent census.
“This is a win for Hudson County,” said Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, who, under the Republican map, might have had his portion of the existing 31st District lumped in with Newark and other portions of Essex County.
The decision came after the 11-member bipartisan redistricting team spent a week at a hotel in New Brunswick, where the five Democratic and five Republican members of the committee lobbied Alan Rosenthal, a Rutgers law professor – appointed by the state Supreme Court– as the deciding vote for maps proposed by each party.
“This is a win for Hudson County.” – Jason O’Donnell
Republicans hoped to make radical changes to the districts, similar to those Republicans made in 1991 that broke up Democratic districts around the state.
While new freeholder districts probably will not go into effect until the next election cycle in 2014, candidates for the state Senate and Assembly districts will be using the new map for the upcoming election, leaving candidates 11 days to obtain the necessary petition signatures to qualify. Had the Republican map been selected, many local Democrats would have been scrambling to get signatures in totally new areas.
“Had the Republican map been selected, the Hudson County Democratic Party would have ceased to be relevant on a state level,” O’Donnell said.
As it is, the most dramatic changes in Hudson County will see State Sen. Brian Stack take a larger portion of Jersey City. State Sen. Nicholas Sacco will lose his portion of Jersey City and will acquire West New York. State Sen. Sandra Cunningham’s district will expand to the west side of Jersey City.
Under the Democratic plan, Stack will lose his ally, Assemblywoman Caridad Rodriguez of West New York – who has already declared her intention to run for the West New York Board of Commissioners in May.
The Republican map would have left Stack’s district largely unchanged.
State Democratic Chairman John Wisniewski called this “a monumental victory” for Democrats.
The decision came after heavy lobbying by Republican Gov. Christopher Christie, who made three visits to meet with the committee during the week-long debate, hoping to push the deciding vote into choosing the more drastic changes proposed by the Republicans.
Christie is struggling to get his government cutback agenda through the state legislature, which is controlled by the Democrats. While the state Senate, under Democrat Senate President Stephen Sweeney, has been more open to compromise, the state Assembly has resisted some of the more austere measures Christie is proposing.
In lobbying the redistricting committee, Christie apparently hoped to change the boundaries of some key Democratic districts that could have resulted in significant gains for Republicans in next November’s election, similar to the massive changes that occurred when a similar committee redistricted in 1991 by choosing a Republican map.
The Republicans’ map proposed to spread Sacco’s district across southern Bergen County into Passaic County, while splitting Bayonne off from Hudson County to include it in Linden and Elizabeth. Another version even proposed lumping Bayonne with Newark.
“You know if that happened, Newark would get to choose who served, not Bayonne, and I was concerned that Bayonne would lose its ability to choose its own representative,” O’Donnell said. “This isn’t about Jason O’Donnell; it’s about Bayonne. Had that happened, I would have found some other way to serve.”
But even as proposed, the Democratic map may give Republicans the edge in some races elsewhere in the state.
As it is, the 31st District – which is represented currently by Cunningham, O’Donnell, and Assemblyman Charles Mainor – will shift up the western side of Jersey City.
The legislative map was unveiled on April 3, although most legislators had clues a day earlier as information filtered out to members of both parties.
Freeholder redistricting was on hold
Although both parties also have to modify the boundaries for freeholder districts, O’Donnell said County Democratic Chairman and Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith deliberately chose to delay discussions until after the state legislative districts were settled.
Unlike the state districts, freeholder districts are not going to affect the upcoming election process. Also, the committee that will choose the districts is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Because both parties are far apart on their vision for redistricting, the matter will likely wind up in court.
Republican County Chairman Jose Arango has already outlined dramatic changes to the district, including possibly forming new districts that are based on ethnic populations rather than municipal boundaries, as which largely exists now.
Smith, according to his Chief of Staff Steve Gallo, is looking to largely keep freeholder districts unchanged, except in Hoboken, where the dramatic increase in population since 2000 will require an adjustment.
Bayonne Democrats move their headquarters
The “for rent” sign on the Broadway storefront where Bayonne democrats held their headquarters is not a sign of the local party’s poverty, said Democratic Chairman and Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell.
“Our rent went up and we got an offer to lease some space at the old St. Henry’s School,” O’Donnell said.
The old office, O’Donnell said, had a number of issues, such as lack of space for meetings and other needed election activities, often forcing the Democrats to seek other larger spaces elsewhere to hold various functions.
The new headquarters is located directly across Avenue C from Bayonne City Hall, making it extremely convenient for many of the key Democrats who hold office or municipal positions to get there.
The new headquarters is comprised of old classrooms, and the property also provides ample parking, he said.
“We took over the new place in January, but didn’t really move in until recently,” he said.