Is there a Ron Paul revolution afoot in Jersey City?
According to two local Republican leaders, the answer is yes.
A recent lawsuit involving the Jersey City Republican Committee is linked, at least in part, to a handful of young Ron Paul supporters who have taken his grassroots approach to political organizing to heart.
With the encouragement of Sean Connelly, an attorney and former chairman of the Hudson County Republican Committee, several of these fresh faces decided to run for district seats on Jersey City’s Republican Committee in June.
“These young bloods, they’re all new to the city. They’re very enthusiastic. Many of them are Ron Paul people,” said Connelly. “I guess because of the [Republican] presidential primary, a lot of them were looking to run for [the] committee. They came to me. I got them the necessary paperwork and said, ‘You’re on your own. Get your petitions done. If you’re elected, you’re elected.’ And they won. I guess it was about 50 or 60 of them.”
‘It stoked my anger that he thought he could get away with this.’ – Sean Connelly
Maffei, a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, denies that he purposely excluded anyone from the reorganization meeting, and insists other factors were at play.
Either way, Connelly ended up filing a lawsuit, the outcome of which means there will be another reorganization meeting held next month.
Maffei believes he has the votes to retain his seat as committee chair. But even if he wins, the skirmish between the “young bloods” and the old guard could signal a shift in local Republican politics.
What’s Ron Paul got to do with it?
Paul, a multi-term U.S. Representative from Texas’ 14th Congressional District, twice ran for the Republican presidential nomination on a platform based on civil libertarian values. While he failed to win his party’s nomination, he successfully ignited populist support among many voters who were turned off by more mainstream Republican and Democratic candidates. After he ended his 2008 run for the White House, Paul encouraged his supporters to stay active and engaged in grassroots political organizing where they live.
This movement was quickly dubbed the “Ron Paul Revolution.”
“What he has encouraged people to do is get involved in their local party because that’s the way we can remake the Republican Party,” said Jim Feeney, a member of the Jersey City Republican Committee. “Then they can start getting onto the state committees. Then they can get on the national committee. Once Ron Paul people take over these committees they can start picking the candidates that get the support of the party.”
Paul is not the first political activist to suggest this strategy.
In the 1990s, conservative groups affiliated with the so-called “religious right” groomed some of their followers for public service by running them in board of election races and low-profile campaigns that didn’t require a lot of resources. The idea was to win “easy” elections. Gain some campaigning and government experience. Then eventually run for higher office at the state and federal levels. Once in these positions office holders were in a position to affect policy changes that were in line with the movement’s values.
More recently, groups on the left have used a similar strategy to train progressives for public service and get them in the pipeline for higher office.
Politics as usual?
This appears to be what Connelly’s “young bloods” are attempting to do by running for the Jersey City Republican Committee.
By law, the committee must host its reorganization meeting the Monday after a party primary. This meant the Republican Committee reorganization meeting had to be held on June 11, since the Republican Primary was held on June 5.
A meeting was, indeed, held and Maffei was reelected as committee chairman, a post he has held for the past 10 years.
In a lawsuit filed in Hudson County Superior Court in August, Connelly alleged that this reorganization meeting was not properly advertised and that many committee members – including several of the newly elected members – were denied their right to vote as a result. He also alleged that Maffei was derelict in his duties as committee chairman.
But Maffei disputes these claims.
“Out of 143 committee members, 110 were notified,” Maffei said.
Ordinarily, Maffei said he advertises reorganization meetings through written letters but did not do so this year because he was waiting for the Office of the City Clerk to certify the election results. This, he said, took several days.
When the election results still hadn’t been certified by the end of the day on Friday, June 8, Maffei said he was concerned because, by law, he had to hold the reorganization meeting on June 11.
He said he “got a phone tree going” and delivered fliers announcing the upcoming meeting to as many residences as he could.
“There were some people we had no contact information on. I know that’s not an excuse. But we notified people to the best of our ability…We had about 72 or 73 people who actually showed up for the meeting,” said Maffei. “By the time we took the vote some people had to leave for work. I believe our actual vote total was 66.”
But Connelly said, “I haven’t spoken to a person yet who went to that meeting. It stoked my anger that he thought he could get away with this.”
The election wasn’t certified until the afternoon of Monday, June 11.
Connelly, who wasn’t told of the meeting himself, filed his suit on behalf of the people who were not notified.
On Sept. 6, a Hudson County Superior Court judge voided the election held on June 11 and ordered the committee to hold a new reorganization meeting “as soon as practicable.” The judge threw out charges that Maffei excluded people “willfully and maliciously” and allegations that he and other committee officers were guilty of malfeasance in office.
Maffei said another reorganization meeting will be held in October – and he fully expects the committee’s newest members to run someone against him for the chairman seat.
Connelly agrees that such a move is likely.
“When these guys ran for [the] committee, that was never part of the discussion,” said Connelly. “But now they are talking about putting up another person for chairman.”
When asked whether the underlying dispute really has to do with insurgent Ron Paul supporters coming into the committee, Maffei said, “Yeah, maybe. Why haven’t any of these people contacted me about working for Romney?”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.