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A billboard from Bill Schluter

Bucco would be the 5th sitting Senator to run for Assembly

Morris County Republican would be the first to run with no plans to serve

By David Wildstein, September 25 2019 1:29 am

Anthony Bucco would not be the first sitting State Senator to seek a seat in the New Jersey State Assembly, but he is the first to run with no intention of keeping the job.

Some Senators have gone to the Assembly after legislative redistricting put them in the same district as other incumbents.  Others have returned to the lower house as part of a resurrection of their political careers.

After four years in the Senate, Sean Kean ran for the Assembly in 2011 after his hometown of Wall was moved into Bob Singer’s district.

Kevin O’Toole spent seven months in the State Senate in 2001 but returned to the Assembly after he was transplanted from an Essex-Union district into a Bergen-Passaic district that extended South into Cedar Grove.

O’Toole is one of two people to go from the Assembly to the Senate back to the Assembly and get a second tenure in the Senate; he returned to the upper house in 2007 when Hank McNamara retired and served until he resigned in 2017 to become Chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The other was Bill Schluter, who served in the Assembly and Senate before losing his seat in the 1973 Watergate landslide to Anne Martindell, Rep. Tom Malinowski’s aunt.  After losing two races for Congress, Schluter returned to the Assembly in 1987 in a Mercer-Hunterdon-Sussex district and moved back to the Senate in 1991 after Dick Zimmer resigned to become a congressman.

Schluter left the Senate in 2001 when his hometown of Pennington was redistricted into a Trenton-based district occupied by State Sen. Shirley Turner.  Instead, he mounted an unsuccessful independent bid for governor.

State Sen. William Vincent Muso, the Mayor of Union City, addresses the New Jersey Senate in 1968. Ace Alagna collection courtesy of the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center, Seton Hall University Libraries, South Orange.

Nicholas LaRocca, a Union City Democrat, won a special election for State Senate in June 1982 after William Vincent Musto was convicted on federal racketeering charges.

Asked once if he planned to run again for Senate, the longtime Musto loyalist said, “I don’t know.  Billy didn’t tell me yet.”

LaRocca wound up just keeping the Senate seat warm for Christopher Jackman, a West New York labor leader who was serving as the Assembly Speaker when Musto resigned in 1982.  Jackman ran for Senate in 1983 – his death in 1991 triggered Bob Menendez’s opportunity to move up – and LaRocca ran for the open Assembly seat.  He did not seek re-election in 1985, the year Republicans Jose Arango and Ronald Dario won the 33rd district Assembly seats on Gov. Tom Kean’s coattails.

Another Hudson County Democrat, Jersey City’s L. Harvey Smith, served in the Senate before going to the Assembly.

In 2003, State Sen. Joseph Charles did not seek a second term as he prepared for his nomination to a Superior Court Judgeship.

The Hudson County Democratic organization backed Smith, then the Jersey City Council President, for the open seat.  Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham challenged him from off the line and won 48%-39%.

Three months later, when Charles resigned to become a judge, the Democratic County Committee gave Smith the Senate seat in a special election convention.  He defeated Cunningham, who as the Democratic nominee was essentially the Senator-elect, by a vote of 159 to 104.

In 2004, he briefly served as Acting Mayor when Cunningham died of a heart attack.

Smith was elected to the Assembly in 2007 after defeating off-the-line candidate Nicholas Chiaravalloti by 2,921 votes in the Democratic primary.

He gave up his seat in 2009 to run for Mayor of Jersey City.  Two months after he lost to incumbent Jerramiah Healy, he was arrested as part of Operation Bid Rig.

William Bate had served just two years in the Senate when the new 1973 map put his hometown of Clifton in the same district as State Sen. Joseph Hirkala, the popular Passaic City Clerk.  Bate ran for Assembly and served for eight years.

When Clifton was redrawn into a new district that included Wayne in 1981, he ran for the Senate again but lost to Passaic County Republican Chairman Joseph Bubba.  He later served as the Passaic County Surrogate, a post he won five times.

Anthony Imperiale, the last Independent candidate to win a race for the New Jersey Legislature in New Jersey, was elected to the Assembly in 1971 and to the Senate in 1973.

He forced Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson into a runoff 1974 and lost his Senate seat to the legendary Harrison Mayor Frank Rodgers (whose record of 48 years as Mayor still stands) in 1977.

Anthony Imperiale, who made his name as a North Ward vigilante during the Newark riots, is the only independent to ever win a general election for State Senate and Assembly in New Jersey, under the current State Constitution.

Imperiale returned to the Assembly in 1979 as a Republican, defeating Democratic incumbent John Cali. The other seat was held by Assemblyman Michael Adubato, the late brother of Newark political leader Stephen Adubato.

He gave up his Assembly seat after one term to make an unsuccessful bid for the 1981 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Frank McDermott was elected to the Assembly in 1963 and re-elected in 1965. He won a State Senate seat in 1967, served as Senate President in 1969, ran for Governor in the ’69 GOP primary, and won a second term in 1971.

In the 1973 Watergate landslide, lost his Senate seat to Democrat Alexander Menza.

McDermott came back to win an Assembly seat in 1975.  Two years later, when Menza declined to seek re-election, he ran for the Senate again and lost to Union Mayor Anthony Russo.  He later spent many years as the Union County GOP Chairman.

Thomas Dunn, the Mayor of Elizabeth from 1964 to 1992, was elected to the State Senate in 1973 to represent a newly-created district.

Union County Democrats decided to dump Dunn from their ticket in 1977 and replace him with Assemblyman John Gregorio, the Mayor of Linden.  Dunn ran as an Independent, but Gregorio defeated him 47%-32%.

He was elected to the Assembly in 1991, winning by just 887 votes to Republican James Hunt in the anti-Florio landslide that year.

In 1992, Dunn lost the Democratic primary for Mayor to Christian Bollwage.  He did not seek a second term in the Assembly in 1993 and was replaced by Neil Cohen.

The last former Senator to serve in the Assembly was Bergen County Democrat Paul Contillo.

Contillo served in the Assembly from 1973 to 1979, when he lost to Republican Louis Kosco.

He ran for the Senate in 1983 and ousted incumbent John Paolella.  He spent eight years in the Senate before Kosco ousted him in the 1991 GOP landslide.

In 1993, Contillo sought a comeback bid against Kosco but narrowly lost the Democratic primary.

When Connie Wagner resigned from the Assembly in 2013, Democrats sent Contillo to the Assembly as a caretaker for three months until the winner of the election, Joseph Lagana, took office.

Norman Robertson was the last former Senator to run for the Assembly.

Robertson spent four years in the Senate before redistricting put his hometown, Clifton, in an East Orange-based district in 2001.  Nia Gill, then an Assemblywoman, ran against him and won 65%-35%.

Robertson ran for the Assembly in 2017 and got shellacked, losing the Republican primary to Christopher DePhillips by 4,099 votes, a margin of more than 2-1.

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