The announcement that Amy Handlin won’t run for re-election to the State Assembly in 2019 triggers a race for a rare open seat in a GOP-leaning district.
Republicans have a slight edge in voter registration in the 13th district, 45,933 to 43,882. Democrats haven’t won a seat in the Monmouth County-based district since 1993 and the 75,188 unaffiliated voters tend to break Republican.
Monmouth County Republican Chairman Shaun Golden told the New Jersey Globe that he won’t begin to look at the open seat race until after the November election.
“We’re just focused on winning this election,” said Golden. “I will meet with leaders in the towns after the election.”
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.
Handlin’s retirement comes two years after State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Middletown) gave up his seat after thirty years in the Legislature. Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver) replaced Kyrillos in the Senate after a brief intra-party faceoff with Handlin, and Freeholder Serena DiMaso (R-Holmdel) took O’Scanlon’s Assembly seat.
Possible Assembly candidates from Middletown include: Mayor Kevin Settembrino, Monmouth County Freeholder Gerald Scharfenberger, Deputy Mayor Anthony Fiore, and Township Committeeman Anthony Perry.
Former Mayor Stephanie Murray, who resigned from the township committee this year to become the administrator in West Long Branch, is also seen as a possible candidate.
Scharfenberger, a former Middletown mayor, had briefly sought the Assembly seat in 2017 when it looked like O’Scanlon and Handlin might run against each other in the Republican Senate primary. He dropped out when Handlin decided to seek another term in the lower house.
Now Scharfenberger is a freeholder, appointed in January to fill DiMaso’s unexpired term. He is on the ballot next month for a one-year unexpired term.
If he wins this year, Scharfenberger is expected to seek a full-term in the Board of Freeholders in 2019, although he is not precluded from switching to the Assembly race instead.
Perry is viewed as a rising star in Monmouth GOP politics and has contacts beyond Middletown from his time as Kyrillos’ chief of staff. He is also Scharfenberger’s son-in-law, which would likely take him out of the Assembly race if the freeholder decides he wants the seat. Some Republicans say Scharfenberger’s mere presence on the GOP ticket next year could be an obstacle for Perry.
Republicans could also look outside Middletown, with some other names already emerging as potential candidates. They include Union Beach Councilman Charles Cocuzza, Hazlet Mayor Scott Aagre, Atlantic Highlands Councilman Stephen Boracchia, and Oceanport Councilman Joseph Irace. Hazlet Deputy mayor Sue Kiley could also emerge as an Assembly candidate if she loses her bid this year for freeholder.
The district is the home of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, a Middletown resident. DiMaso defeated Democrat Tom Giaimo by 7,002 votes in 2017.