Republican Gerald Scharfenberger, elected just last week to fill an unexpired term on the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders, is the front runner to succeed Amy Handlin in the New Jersey State Assembly, according to several Republican insiders who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Handlin announced last month that she would not seek re-election to an eighth term in 2019. At the time, Republican leaders punted the decision of a successor until after the general election.
“I haven’t had time to think about my place in the world,” Scharfenberger told the New Jersey Globe. “I didn’t think it was going to open up this quickly.”
Scharfenberger acknowledged that he needs to make his decision fairly soon and said he would talk to party leaders within the next few weeks.
He also said he enjoys his work in county government.
“I have a list of issues for the next year that I really what to get gone,” Scharfenberger said.
One way or the other, Scharfenberger is expected to be on the ballot next year. He won a one-year unexpired term for freeholder.
If Scharfenberger doesn’t run, Republicans say that Middletown Township Committeeman Tony Fiore and one of his predecessors, Stephen Massell, are the next two in line.
Fiore said today that he wouldn’t rule out running, but isn’t making any plans yet.
“I’m probably leaning towards not going for it,” he told The Globe. “I’m focused on Middletown, my job and my family.”
Further down on the list of potential candidates are two other Middletown candidates, mayor Kevin Settembrino and committeeman Anthony Perry. Union Beach Councilman Charles Cocuzza is also a potential candidate.
A former Middletown mayor, Scharfenberger briefly sought an Assembly seat last year when Handlin flirted with a Senate bid. He was appointed to the freeholder board in February and won a one-year unexpired term last week.
In an editorial board interview with the Asbury Park Press in October, Scharfenberger refused to rule out a 2019 Assembly bid.
Middletown (pop. 66,522) is the largest municipality in the district and insiders expect the seat to stay in Middletown. Until nine months ago, Middletown had a Senate seat and an Assembly seat.
Democrats have not won a 13th district assembly race since 1983.