Click play for audio version of this story
Some Democratic leaders aren’t willing to attack Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco for choosing to remain in the 25th legislative district’s Assembly race even as he takes his late father’s seat in the legislature’s upper chamber.
“Let’s talk about the fact that it’s sad that his dad had to pass. He was a terrific leader and a great public servant,” Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said. “I’m going to let Anthony decide what his best course of action is in terms of his seat. I think that we’re going to continue to run a zealous and robust campaign in that district no matter who’s on the ticket.”
Bucco announced his bid for the State Senate on Wednesday, saying he wants to succeed his father, late State Sen. Anthony R. Bucco, who died of a heart attack on Sept. 16. He was 81.
The assemblyman’s announcement made no mention of his ongoing Assembly re-election campaign. Sources have told the New Jersey Globe Bucco intends to remain in the race and, if he wins, decline the seat if he wins.
The move would trigger second special convention of the district’s Republican committee people, who would pick a successor independent of the ballot box.
While Bucco’s opponents, Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger, have criticized the move, claiming through a spokesman that the assemblyman was attempting to defraud the district’s voters, Democratic leaders stopped well short of issuing such criticism.
Most declined to even chide Bucco over the decision.
“It’s up to the Republicans to make that decision. It’s their primary and their convention,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said when asked about Bucco’s decision to run for both seats with the intention of keeping only one.
“You could ask me five different ways. I’ll give you the same answer: It’s up to the Republicans,” she said.
There’s little question about the source of their reluctance. The elder Bucco died less than two weeks ago, and the situation is a delicate one, even outside of the confines of politics.
The elder Bucco was well-respected in Trenton and was universally mourned by the state’s politerati upon his passing.
That respect—or more cynically, fear of reprisal over a lack of the same—is enough to stop Democratic leaders from latching onto an issue that could define the race in the 25th district.
“I think it might be best if he chose, but I have to say this — and I want this on the record: I had an enormous respect for his dad,” Democratic State Chairman John Currie said. “So, to me, it goes past politics. It’s a sensitive issue because I had a lot of respect for his dad. But that’s a Republican issue, and it’s up to them to figure it out.”