A Paramus businesswoman who helped the local Republican party take control of the local government over the last few years has emerged as the GOP candidate for State Senate in the 38th district, where three-term Democrat Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus) is seeking re-election.
Micheline Attieh told the New Jersey Globe that she would file her petitions before Monday’s deadline, stepping up to run for a seat Republicans think could be competitive in a district that Gov. Phil Murphy carried by five percentage points in 2021.
“If you don’t reach for the stars, how would you know if it’s possible,” Attieh said. “I’ve always been concerned about my community. I’ve spent seventeen years as a county committeewoman in Paramus.”
Attieh says she doesn’t know Lagana, a former Paramus councilman and assemblyman who won the Senate seat in 2018.
“I understand he’s a nice guy. I know he’s well-liked,” she said. “He’s considered to be moderate.”
The new candidate comes with an interesting back story. She was born in Beirut and immigrated to the U.S. after her family escaped Lebanon in the 1970s. Attieh grew up in Prospect Park, where her mother, Antoinette Atie, was a Republican councilwoman for nearly a decade. Her brother, Charlie, became the Prospect Park chief of police.
In 1991, at age 21, Attieh won a seat on the Manchester Regional High School Board of Education. No one had filed for the Prospect Park seat, so she mounted a write-in campaign and defeated Nader Ghoual by three votes, 15 to 12.
Now a longtime resident of Paramus, the mother of four owns 4 Diamond Transportation, a school bus company, and spent over a dozen years as a professor at Berkeley College.
Attieh expressed concern for the direction the state and country are heading.
“The U.S. is not the country that housed me back in 1976,” she said. “I believe in this country. I will defend this country with my last breath.”
She said she was concerned about radical leftists, citing the teaching of critical race theory in public schools as an example.
“Teach acceptance. Teach diversity. But to teach gender identity is completely confusing,” Attieh stated. “Teach math. Teach science. Arm people with knowledge.”
Lagana had a closer-than-expected race two years ago against Richard Garcia, an unknown Republican who spent $6,821 and received 47% of the vote. Lagana lost his hometown, Paramus, by 463 votes.
Bergen County Republicans wanted a Senate candidate from Paramus, where the GOP took control of the Paramus council in 2021 and elected their first mayor in 20 years in 2022. Their first choice, Paramus Councilman Robert Kaiser, unexpectedly changed his mind about running; former Assemblyman Guy Talarico (R-Oradell), a casualty of redistricting in 2001, mulled a Senate bid but opted not to become a candidate.
The 38th district still favors Democrats, who flipped a Senate seat and one Assembly seat in 2001 and the second Assembly seat in 2003. But as recently as 2013, Republicans came within 56 votes of winning one Assembly seat and 443 votes of pickup up both seats. Joe Biden carried the district by fourteen percentage points, and the 38th has 25,385 more Democrats than Republicans.
Republicans have recruited a potentially strong Assembly candidate, Barry Wilkes, a Glen Rock businessman. Gail Horton, who lost a 2018 special election for Assembly, is making her second bid for the 38th district seat.
Republicans are also focused on defeating the lone Democrat on the borough council, MariaElena Bellinger, this fall. Last year, Bellinger ran for mayor and lost to Republican Christopher DiPiazza by nearly 15 points and ran 474 votes behind Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), the Democratic congressman.
Attieh said she was getting her campaign off the ground, meeting with party leaders, and setting a fundraising plan into motion.
“Any time I take something on, I do it with a passion. I’m not afraid to meet people and knock on doors,” he explained. “My goal is to make a difference, whether I win or don’t win.”