Click play for audio version of this story
Democratic Assembly candidates Gerald Falotico and John Birkner attacked their Republican opponents over the appearance of a conservative talk radio host at a recent Bergen GOP fundraiser.
“There should be no place in our politics for such extremist ideology and hatred of people for simply who they are or who they love,” said Falotico, who is Emerson Council President. “John and I are running for Assembly because we reject completely the kind of extremism that opposes sensible gun safety measures or promotes division, bigotry and discrimination against New Jersey families.”
The talk radio host, Kevin McCullough, has previously compared marriages to LGBTQ peoples to bestiality and pedophilia.
Assemblyman Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan), who attended the recent fundraiser, said he knew little of McCullough’s past and did not know the talk radio host would be appearing at the fundraiser until the event began.
Auth said he only met McCollough the day before the fundraiser.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) was less inclined the take the attack lying down.
“To the two knuckle-dragging cro-magnons running against me in this election, stop making crap up. I am not anti-woman. I am not anti-equality. I am not anti-gay rights. I do not want your children to be shot. Stop with the BS,” Schepisi said in a post on Facebook. “Separately, glass houses are a really tough place to live. You have been warned. To everyone else Happy Friday the 13th.”
Though Republicans have long held control of the 39th district’s legislative seats, the district’s races tightened greatly in 2017.
State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest), who is not up for re-election this year, won the district by 27 points in 2015. In 2017, he secured a much less comfortable six-point win.
The trend held true for Schepisi and Auth’s margins as well.
In 2015, Schepisi ran 11 points ahead of the top Democratic vote-getter, while Auth won re-election by roughly eight points.
In 2017, they won re-election by four and three points, respectively.
“Robert Auth and Holly Schepisi embrace a far-right extremist whose anti-LGBTQ, anti-gun safety views are well documented, while building anti-equality, anti-gun safety records in the Legislature,” said Birkner, who is mayor of Westwood. “Families in our district deserve representatives who will stand up for civil rights and equality and work for stronger laws that protect our homes, schools and communities against the epidemic of gun violence.”
The Democrats’ strategy in the district isn’t a unique one. In a way, the challengers are attempting to link the Republican incumbents with President Donald Trump, who often faces criticism of a like to that leveled at Auth and Schepisi.
But, New Jersey Democrats have their own problems, and the Republican incumbents didn’t hesitate to point out as much.
“The silent hypocrisy of John Birkner and Gerry Falotico is an embarrassment to the people they seek to represent,” Schepisi and Auth said in a joint statement. “Throughout the course of this campaign, they have willfully and deliberately refused to condemn hate speech, anti-Semitism, and criminal conduct perpetrated by members of their party and supporters of their campaign. It’s pathetic and unbecoming of someone seeking to represent District 39 in Trenton.”
The two Republicans pointed their challengers’ silence on numerous controversies hiring scandals that have plagued Gov. Phil Murphy’s administrations, including the hiring of now-former Passaic NAACP president Jeffrey Dye and former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez, among others.
Alvarez was accused of sexually assaulting state Housing and Mortgage finance agency chief of staff Katie Brennan.
Dye was pushed out of his positions within the Department of Labor and the Passaic NAACP after the New Jersey Globe reported on a series of anti-Semitic and anti-Latino comments he made at public events and social media posts.
“This repeated pattern of silence is particularly concerning because John Birkner and Gerald Falotico are running to be our voice in Trenton, a position where they will have to represent everyone in the 39th district, not just those of their own political party,” the two incumbents said.
Birkner and Falotico praised Dye’s firing from his Department of Labor post and said Dye had “shown himself to be unfit to lead the Passaic chapter of the NAACP.”
The two have largely remained silent on other the other hiring scandals, though that’s also true for most of the state’s Democratic challengers.
It’s unclear how salient any of these proxy attacks will prove in November, but that hasn’t stopped them so far.
“By cozying up to bigots and far-right extremists, Bergen Republicans will only drift further into obscurity,” Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano said. “Voters in Bergen County want to support candidates who are focused on real issues that affect their lives, not those who embrace hate and division.”