Home>Highlight>Race for Bucco’s seat could get crowded

State Senator Anthony Bucco being sworn into the legislature's upper chamber. Photo by Nikita Biryukov.

Race for Bucco’s seat could get crowded

Morris GOP finance chairman Craig Heard mulling Assembly bid

By David Wildstein, November 09 2019 10:58 pm

The field of candidates to fill the remaining seven weeks of Anthony M. Bucco’s term in the State Assembly appears to be growing in advance of the November 14 filing deadline.

Bucco resigned from the Assembly on October 24 after being sworn into the State Senate seat occupied by his father from 1998 until his death in September.

A special election convention has been called for November 21.

Aura Dunn, a former district director for Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, filed her letter of intent with Morris and Somerset Republicans on November 1.  Assistant Morris County Counsel John Barbarula told the New Jersey Globe in September that he would run for the open seat if there was one.

Morris County Republican Finance Committee Chairman Craig Heard, a conservative who challenged Rep. Leonard Lance in the 2016 GOP primary,  is reportedly close to entering the Assembly race.

Republican insiders told the Globe that Freeholders Deborah Smith and Stephen Shaw were also possible candidates, along with Morristown Councilwoman Alison Deeb.

Assemblyman-elect Brian Bergen (R-Denville), who was elected to succeed Michael Patrick Carroll in the November 5 election, could get an early start in the legislature by replacing Bucco.

That could help Republicans avoid a short-term fight.

The winner of the race for the unexpired term could have a leg up on another race in January, when Republican county committee members from the 25th district will need to pick a replacement to fill the seat Bucco won earlier this week.

Still, there are no assurances that the person selected to replace Bucco in November will also replace Bucco in January.

Voters – either deliberately or unknowingly – voted to re-elect Bucco to the Assembly, even though he had already left the lower house for a Senate seat.

Bucco is expected to seek the remainder of his father’s unexpired term in a November 2020 special election.  There will also be a special election to fill Bucco’s unexpired term in the Assembly.

Rupande Mehta announced on Thursday that she would seek the Democratic nomination for Senate.

Another potential candidate, Morris Township Mayor Jeff Grayzel, scolded Mehta for entering the 2020 race while local races in Dover, Mendham Township and Morris Township were still too close to call.
Democrats Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger, who ran strong races for the Assembly this year against Bucco and Bergen, are considered potential candidates for Senate and Assembly in next year’s special election.

Morris County Republicans will also need to hold a special election convention in January to replace Freeholder Heather Darling, who was elected Surrogate on Tuesday.  She was up for re-election next year.

If Smith or Shaw were to win an Assembly seat, the GOP would need to hold another convention to pick their replacement on the Morris County Board of Freeholders.

Dunn ran in the June GOP primary for Carroll’s open Assembly seat.  She lost to Bergen by 1,418 votes.

She launched her campaign in the special election with the endorsements of Republican mayors in Mendham Borough, Mendham Township, Chester Borough, Chester Township, Washington Township and Bernardsville, and with the backing of the Operating Engineers and IBEW, and Assemblywomen Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Parsippany) and Nancy Munoz (R-Summit).

Barbarula finished 144 votes behind Dunn.

Deeb had mulled an Assembly bid earlier this year but decided not to run.  She did not file for re-election to her fourth ward council seat but changed her mind and won the Republican primary as a write-in candidate.  She lost on Tuesday to Democrat Sandi Mayer, who defeated her by ten percentage points.

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