Asm. O’Donnell Addresses Backlash to Buono Choosing Him to Lead State Democrats

The Democratic Party seems divided over Sen. Barbara Buono’s choice of Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell as the next chairman of the state party. O’Donnell told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he doesn’t take the harsh words personally and he believes after the June primary, Democrats will rally behind Buono’s campaign for governor.

O’Donnell compared the recent harsh words from Senate President Steve Sweeney and others to family feuds. “In any family you’re gonna have squabbles and you’re gonna have fights. At the end of the day, the Democratic Party’s gonna be united behind its candidate, Barbara Buono. These kind of things happen, but this will blow over,” he said.

Although Sweeney has spoken negatively about O’Donnell chairing the state party, O’Donnell said he still plans to work hard during Sweeney’s reelection campaign. “The fact of the matter is we have over 2 million registered Democrats in the state of New Jersey. It’s not about Steve Sweeney, it’s not about Jason O’Donnell,” he said.

When asked if he thought the negative reaction to him stems from Democrats’ lack of enthusiasm for Buono’s gubernatorial campaign, O’Donnell said he doesn’t know what others’ motivations are. “All I can say is that myself and Sen. Buono are committed going forward past June 4 to changing the state of New Jersey; myself reinvigorating the party, working county by county to get Democrats to come back home for our candidate,” he said.

O’Donnell said he’s confident that there will be enough support to confirm his as chairman. “There’s still time left in this process. And I believe after I sit down with them and we talk one on one and we dispel all the things that have been said in the media, I think I’ll win them over,” he said.

O’Donnell cites fear of the unknown as a reason why some Democrats have been skeptical of Buono’s choice to lead the state party. “I’m a younger guy in the party, although I’ve been around. And I think that’s probably it, an unknown quantity,” he said. “What are they getting with me?”

While O’Donnell said he could bring a generational shift to the party, he praised his predecessor. “I think Chairman [John] Wisniewski provided leadership that came at the right time — redistricting and a presidential election. I think he did a commendable job,” O’Donnell said. “I think I offer a little more vitality. I’m a little younger. And I do have some ideas as to the future of the party.”

Fundraising has been a major issue in Buono’s campaign for governor. Chris Christie has a much larger amount of money raised and Buono may not reach the level where she’s eligible to receive the maximum amount of public matching funds. O’Donnell pointed out that because there was no primary race among Democrats, it’s been difficult for Buono to get her name out to voters.

“This week she’s gonna go on television with a commercial. That’ll help, and post-June 4, when she is the nominee, you’re gonna see things start to turn here in the state of New Jersey for Sen. Buono,” O’Donnell said.

There are some influential detractors in the Democratic Party who aren’t throwing their support behind Buono. But O’Donnell said the Democratic base in New Jersey will be the ones to elect Buono to lead the state. “We’re all one vote. I think we need to appeal to our Democratic base and get the Democrats home. Those are the people who are gonna elect Barbara Buono governor,” he said.

He’s also optimistic that Democrats can keep their majorities in the legislature. “Our goal is to get Barbara Buono elected, hold our majorities in both the Senate and the Assembly,” he said.