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Assembly Candidate Aura Dunn
Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-Mendham). (Photo: Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe)

Aura Dunn wins big for Bucco Assembly seat

Will serve seven-week term in legislature

By David Wildstein and Nikita Biryukov, November 21 2019 8:07 pm

Aura Dunn, a former top aide to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, has been elected to the New Jersey State Assembly, winning a special election convention to fill the remaining seven weeks of Anthony M. Bucco’s current term in the 25th district.

Dunn won 74% of the vote on the first ballot, defeating Assistant Morris County Counsel John Barbarula, 133 to 24.

“I’m bowled over,” Dunn said. “Everybody was talking about, with six people in the field, we’ll likely have a second vote. I even had a speech prepared for my second vote. I didn’t have any acceptance speech prepared.”

Mendham Township Deputy Mayor Sarah Neibart finished third with 13 votes, followed by Morristown Councilwoman Alison Deeb (5) and Pfizer executive Al Ribeiro (4).  Attorney Bob Olejar received no votes.

A total of 179 Republican County Committee members out of 277 eligible to vote attended the convention, a turnout of just 65%.

In a show of party unity, former Morris County Chairman John Sette and Acting County Chair Laura Ali joined together to pay for refreshments for the county committee members.

Dunn will be sworn in on November 25.

Tonight’s special election convention is the latest stop in what has already been a peculiar chain of events.

Anthony R. Bucco died six days after the date that would have triggered a November 2019 special election for his Senate seat.

That allowed Republicans to fill the Senate seat until a November 2020 special election for the remaining fourteen months of Anthony R. Bucco’s term.

Anthony M. Bucco was unopposed for the Senate, but decided to continue his re-election bid for the 25th district Assembly seat.

Democrats made an issue of Bucco running for a seat he had no intention of keeping, although it’s not clear whether voters knew that their decision to re-elect Bucco would result in party insiders filling his seat.

Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s special election convention, there will be another vote early next year to fill the seat Bucco was just re-elected to.

Republicans are not obligated to select the winner of tonight’s short-term special election convention when they meet again in January or February, but the magnitude of Dunn’s victory might dissuade a challenge.

At least, Dunn said she doesn’t expect to have to run for the seat in another contested race.

“The theme really was about bringing unity to the party, so this was the party’s choice, and I don’t see what would change a month from now,” she said.

That’s still no guarantee that she’ll win the remainder of term Bucco won this year without contest. 

None of the five other candidates in Thursday’s race told the assemblywoman-elect they would not run again.

“I haven’t had anyone, let’s say, tell me they’re considering jumping in,” Dunn said. “So what that would mean? I don’t know.”

Voters will get a say on the identity of their legislator in a November 2020 special election to fill the remaining fourteen months of Anthony M. Bucco’ Assembly term.

Both parties will hold special primary elections in June.

“I’m ready,” Dunn said. “I’ve been ready for this for a long time.”

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