Editor’s Note: This story was written prior to the death of Senator Bucco earlier today and remains as it appeared.
Five weeks after he won a second term in 2001, State Sen. Tony Bucco (R-Boonton) found himself in the middle of a sex scandal.
His former legislative aide alleged that her job on Bucco’s Senate staff required that she engage in a sexual relationship with him.
The details of a lawsuit remain unknown, since the out-of-court settlement was – and remains – sealed, even though the New Jersey Legislature was a defendant in the suit.
Bucco remains in the Senate and his son, Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton), who was his father’s attorney and political strategist at the time, is now seeking his sixth term in the State Assembly.
The Democratic challengers in the 25th district want to know details of Assemblyman Bucco’s role in the settlement.
“As recent events nationwide have rightfully highlighted, we should have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassers and their enablers,” said Daniel Fleiss, the campaign manager for Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger.
Fleiss noted that taxpayers footed at least part of the bill for Senator Bucco’s legal defense. The Legislature paid $44,000 to Assemblyman Bucco’s law firm to help defend his father.
“We are calling on Assemblyman Bucco to act with transparency and release the details of the settlement he engineered for his father,” Fleiss said. “Time’s up. It’s long past time for the Bucco dynasty to be held accountable to taxpayers.”
Senator Bucco’s aide, whose name continues to be withheld from the New Jersey Globe to protect the privacy of the victim, claimed that Bucco’s wife learned of the affair and demanded that she be fired from his staff, and from a job at the Lake Hopatcong Regional Planning Board – a post she said Bucco helped her get.
Both Buccos voted in favor of landmark legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg last spring that made non-disclosure agreements in the settlement of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases unenforceable.
But the new law is not retroactive and Senator Bucco cannot be compelled to release the details of the settlement.
Weinberg, who supports Bhimani and her running mate, Darcy Draeger, last year called on her Senate colleague to release the details of his settlement voluntarily.
The Globe is awaiting comment from the Bucco campaign and will update the story upon receipt.
Senator Bucco’s nearly 18-year-old sex scandal comes at a time when the race to unseat his son has already become heated.
Republicans have blasted Bhimani for receiving a 17.5% reduction on property taxes for an apartment in New York City owned by a trust for which Bhimani is a trustee.
Fleiss said that neither Bhimani nor her husband, the other trustee, where aware that their co-op association had applied for the tax abatement on their behalf.
“Steps were taken as soon as they were made aware to right the mistake and ensure that no financial benefit was accrued, Fleiss said.
The (Bergen) Record first reported the story, noting that Bhimani saved about $2,800 annually in taxes on their Murray Hill condo.
Despite Bhimani renting out the apartment, the Bucco campaign is now questioning her residency.
“She clearly recognized the problem by attempting to reverse her abatement days before announcing her campaign last fall,” said Rob Costello, the campaign manager for Bucco and his running mate, Denville Councilman Brian Bergen.
Costello wants New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way to look into the matter.
Fleiss said that the GOP attack was meant to deflect attention from Bucco’s record.
“Anthony Bucco and Brian Bergen know that they have nothing to run on but their disastrous record that’s left seniors priced out of their homes, prescription drug costs rising, and children fearing for their safety in schools,” Fleiss said. “That’s why they’ve done everything they can to distract voters from real issues with personal attacks and petty grievances.”