State Sen. Anthony R. Bucco, a Morris County Republican who has served in the New Jersey Senate since 1998, has died. He was 81.
Bucco has been a fixture in politics for more than 40 years, since winning a seat on the Boonton Board of Alderman in 1977. He served as mayor, freeholder, and assemblyman before ousting State Sen. Gordon MacInnes (D-Morris Township) in 1997.
He was the Senate Majority Leader from 2002 to 2004, during a time when Republicans and Democrats shared a 20-20 control of the State Senate.
“It is with great sadness I share that Senator Tony Bucco suffered a major heart attack this morning at his home. He passed peacefully this evening with his family by his side at Saint Clare’s Hospital in Denville,” said Michael DuHaime, a spokesman for the Bucco family. “The family kindly asks for privacy at this time.” “
The longtime legislator was the sponsor of “Terry’s Law,” which strengthened New Jersey’s drunk driving laws. He also wrote the law that created the Lake Hopatcong Commission.
Bucco was serving on the Boonton Board of Adjustment in 1977 when he won an open fourth ward seat on the Board of Aldermen. He ran unopposed in his first election in both the primary and general elections.
He won a second term in 1979 with no primary or general election opposition.
In 1981, Bucco faced his first Democratic challenger, former Alderman Theodore Vreeland. He defeated Vreeland, 381 to 265, a 59%-41% margin.
Bucco announced his bid to run for Mayor of Boonton in early 1983, following the announcement that Emidio Cacciabeve was retiring after six years as mayor and 20 as an alderman.
Bucco had no primary opponent. In the general election, he faced Democrat Donald Bender, a former first ward alderman who had lost three mayoral bids. Bucco won by 147 votes, a 56%-44% margin.
In 1985, Bucco was called upon to break a 3-3 tie in a race for President of the Board of Alderman. He voted for Dan Gregory against longtime Alderman Louis Mazzei, a political rival.
In his bid for a second term in 1985, Bucco defeated Democrat Louise Friedman with 65% of the vote.
Alderman Anthony Lasalandra challenged Bucco in the 1987 Republican primary and lost by a 2-1 margin. He had no general election opponent.
A sequence of political changes led to Bucco seeking higher office in 1989.
Gov. Tom Kean appointed Assemblyman Ralph Loveys (R-Florham Park) to serve as chairman of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority in in 1989. Freeholder Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany) won Loveys’ Assembly seat and Bucco became a candidate for the Morris County Board of Freeholders.
In the late 1980s, vacancies were still being filled by the freeholder board and 22 candidates applied for an appointment to DeCroce’s seat.
The freeholders selected Bucco to replace DeCroce.
Freeholder Carol Murphy was seeking re-election in the June 1989 primary, while Michael Sawka, appointed to the freeholder board in 1988 following the death of Frederick Knox, declined to run again.
Bucco and seven other Republicans were competing for two seats: former Morris Township Mayor Peter O’Hagan, Parsippany Councilman John Conway, former East Hanover Councilman Anthony Crecco, Lincoln Park Councilman David Baker, Mount Olive Councilman Larry Brown, and former Pequannock Mayor Ruth Spellman, and Morris County Social Services Board investigator Bernard Laughlin.
In that race, he had the support of Sheriff John Fox and Freeholders John Sette, John O’Keeffe and Michael Dedio.
Murphy was the top vote-getter with, with O’Hagan finishing second. Bucco won the third spot, beating out Crecco by about 800 votes. Conway finished about 700 votes behind Crecco.
Bucco, along with Murphy and O’Hagan, had no problem defeating their general election opponents: in the general election: former Roxbury Democratic Chairman William Bisset, former Parsippany Councilwoman Margaret Manhardt, and Philip Montesano of Randolph.
Seeking re-election in 1992, Bucco suffered the first loss of his political career when he was ousted in the Republican primary.
Morris County Republicans faced a battle that year as Edward Rochford defeated Fox in the GOP Sheriff primary.
Murphy and O’Hagan easily won re-nomination, but Bucco finished fifth in a seven-candidate field, with victims rights advocate and political newcomer James O’Brien capturing the third GOP nod. O’Brien finished about 1,800 votes ahead of Morris township mayor Jackie Marvin Maucher and around 3,700 votes in front of Bucco.
O’Brien became chairman of the nationally-prominent Coalition of Crime Victims Rights Organizations after his 25-year-old daughter was kidnapped, raped and stabbed to death a decade earlier.
Bucco attempted a comeback bid in 1993 when Freeholder Patrick Hyland decided not to seek re-election., but lost the Republican primary by around 1,700 votes to Chatham Township Committeeman John Eckert.
The death of Rep. Dean Gallo (R-Parsippany) opened the door for Bucco’s return.
Assemblyman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) won Gallo’s open congressional seat, and Bucco became a candidate for State Assembly.
In a special election convention to fill the remaining year of Frelinghuysen’s term in Trenton, Bucco faced former Morris Township Mayor Richard Watson.
Bucco won by 30 votes, 146 to 116.
Almost immediately, Bucco faced a challenge to keep his new Assembly seat.
With the retirement of eight-term Assemblyman Arthur Albohn (R-Hanover), five other Republicans joined the race for the two 25th district Assembly seats: attorney Michael Patrick Carroll, who had come within 422 votes of taking out Albohn in the 1993 primary; former Albohn aide Richard Merkt; J. Patrick Gilligan, brokerage firm manager who had won 1.4% of the vote in the 1993 GOP gubernatorial primary; Dover bar owner Frank Zanotti; and Morris County Freeholder Chris Christie.
Christie entered the State Assembly race just three months after taking office as a freeholder, saying he had accomplished all he could it that post.
Bucco teamed up with Carroll, while Christie and Merkt ran together.
Bucco was the top vote-getter with 8,425 votes, followed by Carroll with 7,219. Merkt (4,548) finished third and Christie (4,389) came in fourth. They were followed by Gilligan (2,074) and Zanotti (1,518).
In 1997, Bucco gave up his Assembly seat to challenge MacInnes, a one-term Democratic Senator who had unseated Senate Majority Leader John Dorsey (R-Boonton) four years earlier.
In the June Republican primary, Bucco defeated former Morris Township Mayor Peter Mancuso by 2,009 votes, 56%-44%.
Bucco defeated MacInnes by 7,533 votes, 55%-44%, in the general election.
He became Assistant Majority Leader and after winning re-election in 2001 by a 2-1 margin against former Jefferson Mayor Horace Chamberlain, he became co-Senate Majority Leader.
In 2003, Bucco won a third term in the Senate against his predecessor’s wife, Blair MacInnes. He won by ten percentage points even though MacInnes made an issue of a sexual harassment suit that was filed against the Bucco by his former aide.
Bucco easily won re-election in 2007 with 61% against Democrat Francis X. Herbert, who had served as a Bergen County Freeholder and State Senator before moving to Morris County.
In 2011, Morris County Freeholder Bill Chegwidden challenged Bucco in the Republican primary. Bucco won by 4,019 votes, 66%-34%. He won 61% in the general election that year and 87% in 2013 when no Democrat filed against him.
Bucco had the closest general election of his political career in 2017, winning by 2,528 votes, 52%-48%, against Democrat Lisa Bhimani.
He was the Senate Minority Budget Officer until January, when Bucco and Senate Republican Conference Leader Steve Oroho (R-Franklin) switched roles.
In February 2019, Bucco was diagnosed with squamous carcinoma, a treatable and curable form of throat cancer.
Bucco was born February 24, 1938. He was a lifelong resident of Boonton and served in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1957 to 1965.
He was the president of Baker Titan Adhesives, a Paterson-based manufacturing company/
Bucco is survived by his wife, Helen, his son, Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton), six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.