Nicholas D’Agostino, a 31-year-old school board member in Sussex County, has announced that he will challenge Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) in 2022.
D’Agostino is the president of the Sussex-Wantage Regional Board of Education, where he is serving his second term.
“I am finished waiting for career politicians to save our country,” D’Agostino said. “Our nation is under attack.”
D’Agostino enters the race with a compelling life story.
Diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy before he was two, he has been confined to a power wheelchair since age six. He’s survived numerous surgeries and a life-threatening staph infection.
“My spine is literally made of steel,” D’Agostino said.
In 2015, D’Agostino made his first bid for public office as a candidate for the school board, but he nearly won. Wayne Dunn defeated him by 7 votes, 795 to 788.
The next year, he sought a seat on the Wantage Township Committee. D’Agostino lost the Republican primary by 241 votes, 61%-39%, against incumbent Ronald Bassani.
After Dunn gave up his seat in 2018 to run for the Hight Point/Wantage Regional High School Board of Education, D’Agostino ran again and won. This time he was unopposed but was the top vote-getter of the three winning candidates.
Again the top vote-getter, he was re-elected to a second term in 2020, running 890 votes ahead of the second-place finisher for three seats and 1,107 ahead of the candidate who came in fourth.
D’Agostino is charting out a conservative course as a candidate for Congress, saying he supports “free speech, religious liberty, our unborn, the second amendment, our police, our military, secure borders, school choice, and the nuclear family.”
“God is being taken out of our country, and the Constitution is being disregarded. There is no respect for law and order, and people celebrate the genocide of unborn babies,” he said on his campaign website. “We punish hard work, and reward laziness. Too many people attempt to ruin the lives of anyone who disagrees with them.”
D’Agostino works as a motivational speaker.
To serve in Congress, D’Agostino will need to get past the Human Fundraising Machine: Gottheimer has $8.35 million cash-on-hand.
In his past local races in Wantage, D’Agostino has never raised more than the $4,600 threshold needed to trigger a requirement that he disclose contributors and expenditures.
Wantage is a small Sussex township of 11,358 people, but with an outsized role in northwestern New Jersey politics. It’s the hometown of former Rep. Scott Garrett, the seven-term congressman Gottheimer ousted in 2016, and to 24th district assemblymen Parker Space and Hal Wirths. It’s also the residence of conservative media personality Lou Dobbs.
Gottheimer, was re-elected in 2020 by 31,842 votes, 53%-46% against former investment banker Frank Pallotta. Pallotta spent $2.97 million to unseat Gottheimer, including $1.4 million of his own money.
The race to find a challenger to Gottheimer begins with the uncertainties of congressional redistricting. A new map will be drawn in advance of the 2022 election after the latest census tallies are certified.
There is no guarantee that Wantage or Sussex County will be included in New Jersey’s 5th district.
D’Agostino cities his wife, Breelagh, as his partner “in all things.”
“My time as an elected official has been the most rewarding experience. I have found no greater passion and no greater purpose,” D’Agostino said.
The school board has been the launching spot for a 5th district Member of Congress before.
In 1980, Republican Marge Roukema had been the president of the Ridgewood Board of Education before she unseated three-term Rep. Andrew Maguire (D-Ridgewood).
Editor’s note: this story was updated at 11:41 AM on February 5, 2021 to correct an error regarding D’Agostino’s employment.