Editor’s Note: This article was updated with comment from the Bhimani-Draeger campaign at 1:19 p.m.
State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco was sworn into his late father’s seat Thursday.
“I entered the chamber today with mixed emotions,” Bucco said after taking the oath of office. “Memories of being at the statehouse in the past with my father, and then emotions of what lies ahead for me as I forge a new path in the Senate.”
Bucco’s father, State Sen. Tony R. Bucco died of a heart attack on Sept. 16.
The 25th district’s Republican county committee people elected Bucco to fill his father’s seat on Oct. 15 at an uncontested convention.
The swearing was something of a somber ceremony, with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle paying homage to the late Bucco.
“You never had to question Tony or his commitment to his constituents or the state of New Jersey,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said. “What he believed, he fought for and he cared deeply about. And I agree, He represented Morris County well, but he also represented the state of New Jersey extremely well. We lost a giant.”
Republicans’ praise was little different.
“He understood the budget numbers. He understood the budget impact. He understood the importance that people had to have faith in this institution, and he lived it and he honored it every day,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean said. “We are all better because we knew Tony Bucco as a friend, as a friend as a family member and as an institution of this important institution. Thank you for allowing us to spend some time with him.”
Despite his ascension to the Senate, Bucco is still seeking re-election to the Assembly seat he gave up at 11 a.m. Thursday.
He does not intend to keep the seat if he wins re-election, and it’s unclear who Republicans will pick for the seat if Bucco wins another term in the Assembly.
Though it remains unclear what impact — if any — Bucco’s proxy candidacy will have on the race, his Democratic opponents, Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger, have already leveled attacks at the now-Senator over the matter.
They repeated that attack Thursday.
“On behalf of the entire team, I want to congratulate Senator Anthony Bucco on his new job. It’s just too bad he found another way to show his disregard for 25th District residents on his way out,” Bhimani-Draeger Campaign Manager Daniel Fleiss said. “Anthony Bucco’s first act as Senator should be to finally be honest with voters about what his fake candidacy for Assembly really is: a partisan power grab to bypass the will of the people and install whichever hand-picked party insider he chooses into public office.
Other Democrats proved less willing to do so.
“It’s his decision and it’s his right to take the seat. Listen, his father was a wonderful person that we all loved and really respected. His son made the decision,” Sweeney said. “He made the decision that was his to make. Doesn’t matter whether Democrat or Republican, to be honest with you.”