If you thought Rodney Frelinghuysen’s duck-and-cover political strategy during the first year of his twelfth term was particularly foolish, then you’re going to love the semi-timid campaign of his top New Jersey staffer in the June Republican primary.
Aura Kenny Dunn, a former Sesame Street lobbyist and Frelinghuysen’s district director, is currently testing the waters for a Morris County Freeholder bid. Dunn was one of the architects of Frelinghuysen’s strategy of refusing to hold town hall meetings or meet with groups of constituents in 2017 – a forced error that led to the exponential growth of a grass roots political organization, NJ 11th for Change. The group, which held weekly protests outside congressman’s Washington office, helped torpedo Frelinghuysen’s approval ratings and force him to abandon his re-election bid earlier this year.
Now Dunn, the public face of Frelinghuysen’s New Jersey political operation, has a clear calendar come January. She’s been making the rounds of Republican events and circulating petitions to run for freeholder.
It may not be the best time for a Frelinghuysen surrogate to run in a GOP primary: some Republican activists are angry that it took the congressman so long to decide he didn’t want to run again. The retirement has created a divisive primary and left candidate scrambling for money while Frelinghuysen sits on a warchest of more than a million dollars.
Sources say her candidacy is the brainchild of Christine Myers, a fellow Mendham resident who can’t seek a second term as freeholder because she has taken a job in the Trump administration.
The New Jersey Globe attempted to contact Dunn to confirm the circumstances of her candidacy, but she’s taking a page from the Frelinghuysen playbook and refuses to talk. Four separate calls were made to the congressman’s Morristown office, but she was consistently unavailable to come to the phone. Another Frelinghuysen staffer did confirm that Dunn still works there.
On Wednesday evening, Dunn finally responded to an e-mail: “I cannot speak to you while I am working. Thanks for understanding and reaching out to my personal email after work hours. Tell me what you need. How did you obtain my email address, btw?”
This website replied that there were questions regarding Dunn’s fledgling freeholder campaign and offered to speak with her on Friday evening or through the weekend.
“Sounds good. Let’s plan to talk then,” Dunn replied early Thursday morning.
But by early Friday morning, Dunn’s plans changed. “I’m headed to work and no longer free this evening to speak,” Dunn wrote in an e-mail. “I have not declared or filed a petition.”
Dunn’s refusal to talk politics extended through the weekend. She did not answer a call to her cell phone early Sunday evening, and has not responded to an additional request for comment on her voice mail and by text message.
On Sunday morning, Dunn was spotted at the Kinnelon Firehouse pancake breakfast this morning. She was sitting with Freeholders Doug Cabana and Deborah Smith, and Sheriff Jim Gannon.
This puts Dunn in the middle of a political mess in Morris County.
Smith doesn’t want to run with incumbent John Cesaro, so she’s looking to form her own ticket. Sources say she was thinking about forming a team with former Freeholder John Krickus, who’s thinking of running again this year.
But Cabana despises Krickus, sources say, and has been trying to talk Smith out of that alliance. And Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce loathes Cesaro, who challenged her in the Republican primary last year. She won’t be happy if Cabana’s efforts help Cesaro win the GOP primary.