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State Sen. Gerald Cardinale and Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.

Schepisi mulling GOP primary challenge against Cardinale

Bergen assemblywoman considering a Senate bid against 86-year-old, 12-term incumbent

By David Wildstein, January 26 2021 12:09 pm

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) is seeking support to challenge 86-year-old State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest) for the Bergen County Organization line at the party’s convention in March.

Over the past few weeks, I have had multiple conversations with friends, family, local residents, political and community leaders across my district about my political future and the direction of our party,” Schepisi said.  “I’ve been heartened by the broad support I have received and the strong encouragement to consider running for the state Senate this November. While I have not made any final decisions, it is something I am seriously considering.”

The filing deadline to participate in the GOP screening process and be on the ballot for the convention is Monday, creating a narrow window for Schepisi to make a final decision about taking on Cardinale or seeking re-election to her 39th district State Assembly seat.

Cardinale says he is aware of the potential challenge from Schepisi, 49, a five-term assemblywoman and his running mate for the last decade.

“Holly is personally ambitious, and she sees time going by,” Cardinale said.  “She’s going to take the plunge.”

The longtime legislator – he defeated an incumbent to win a State Assembly seat in 1979 – said he’s taking Schepisi seriously.

“I’m making calls,” he said.  “It was a little sudden.”

Cardinale said he was giving GOP municipal chairs and mayors in his district a chance to say whether they thought he should give up the State Senate seat he first won in 1981.

“So far I haven’t come across anyone dissatisfied with what I’m doing,” Cardinale said.  “They are not pleased to have a fight in the district.”

Schepisi is one of the Republicans who has praised Cardinale.

“Senator Cardinale has been a steadfast ally and friend and has served our community admirably for over 40 years,” she said. “During my time in the legislature, we have worked together on many important pieces of legislation and have fought to improve the lives of our residents.”

But Schepisi said that she’ll make a final call about running for Senate based on the needs of her constituents.

“As we move forward, the decision to run for state Senate will not be based on the past, but rather it will be based solely on what is best for the future of our party, the people of the 39th legislative district and how best I can serve them,” Schepisi stated.

Schepisi has been quietly working Republican insiders for support for the last few weeks.

She recently met with Passaic County Republican Chairman Peter Murphy in search of the organization line.

Sources told the New Jersey Globe that Murphy will rely on GOP municipal chairs in Bloomingdale, Ringwood, and Wanaque to determine whether Cardinale and Schepisi get the Passaic line.   Passaic makes up about 15% off the Republican primary voters in the 39th district.

If Schepisi winds up filing for Senate by the February 1 deadline, it will open up an Assembly seat in a district that hasn’t elected a Democrat since 1977.

Schepisi can lose a convention and still take on the 12-term incumbent in the June Republican primary, but she can’t use her Assembly seat as a fallback and run on the organization line for re-election.

“Once you take the plunge, you take the plunge,” Cardinale said.

The other Republican incumbent, Assemblyman Robert Auth (R-Old Tappan), is a staunch Cardinale ally and former staffer and will run with the incumbent senator.

Sunday’s filing deadline could force potential Republican Assembly candidates to pro-actively file letters of intent to protect their ability to screen and compete at the convention – something they could pull back if Schepisi decides to stay in the Assembly.

Possible Assembly candidates include: Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo, the 2017 GOP nominee for Lt. Governor; Emerson Mayor Danielle DiPaola; Ramsey Mayor Deirdre Dillon; Upper Saddle River Mayor Joanne Minichetti; former Ramsey Council President Vanessa Jachzel;  Montvale Mayor Michael Ghassali; Closter Mayor John Glidden; and former congressional candidate Frank Pallotta.

Cardinale shares the record as the longest-serving state senator in New Jersey history with Richard J. Codey, a former governor.

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