Home>Campaigns>Six Repubicans, including Steve Lonegan, mull bid for Northwest N.J. Assembly seat

Assemblyman Parker Space. (Photo: Parker Space).

Six Repubicans, including Steve Lonegan, mull bid for Northwest N.J. Assembly seat

Fantasia, Sarnoski, Inganamort, Aikens head list of potential Parker Space successors

By David Wildstein, November 17 2022 12:01 am

The field of potential candidates for an open State Assembly seat in the 24th district is growing, including an unexpected trial balloon by Steve Lonegan to replace retiring six-term Republican Parker Space (R-Wantage).

Steve Lonegan moved to Sussex County a few months ago – his voter registration was effective on October 27 —  and now the former Bogota mayor is being urged by some to run for the Space’s seat.

He’s one of six conservative Republicans so far that are interested in seeking Space’s seat, along with Sussex County Commissioner Dawn Fantasia, Warren County Commissioner Jason Sarnoski, Chester Mayor-elect Michael Inganamort, Lafayette Board of Education President Josh Aikens, and newcomer Enrico Fioranelli, a gym owner from Roxbury.

Lonegan, 66, was elected to his first of three terms as mayor in 1995.  He lost races for the State Senate in 1996, Congress in 1998, gubernatorial primaries in 2005 and 2009 (he carried Sussex by three points against Chris Christie), U.S. Senate against Cory Booker in 2013, and primaries for Congress in 2014 (he moved to Ocean County to run in the 3rd district) and in 2018 when he returned to Bergen to run in the 5th against Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff); Lonegan lost that primary by six points but carried the Sussex portion of the district by six points.

Under a new map drawn by the Legislative Apportionment Commission this year, 60% of the district is in Sussex, 35% in Morris and 5%.

An endorsement by State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Oxford), the Warren County Surrogate-elect, posted on Facebook page by Sussex County Commissioner-elect Bill Hayden, stating that “Steve Lonegan is absolutely the man for that job.”

“Steve has been at the forefront of every major battle for conservative principles for the last thirty years and he’s won all of them,” said Doherty.  “His dogged determination to defeat radical proposals, is the stuff of legends.

Doherty’s statement could detract from Sarnoski’s ability to mount a campaign from the two Warren municipalities in the 32-town district, but the two are extremely close and close Doherty Allie’s would almost certainly back Sarnoski.

They key player in this race is popular Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-Franklin), who will be at the top of the ticket in the 2023 primary.  Oroho has not indicated a preference for the open Assembly seat and it’s possible he never will.

Fantasia, 48, is a former Franklin council president who has won two countywide elections.

The 38-year-old Inganamort  grew up in Sussex County – he was elected to the Republican County Committee in his hometown of Sparta at age 18 – and spent ten years as an aide to Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage).   He’s been council president for five years and was unopposed in his bid for mayor last week.

If Inganamort emerges as the organization choice in Morris – which has a line – his strong ties in Sussex makes him a strong candidate.  Sussex has no line, but Warren does.

Aikens, 39, has won three local elections in Lafayette and has built a statewide network as the head of Arise NJ, a non-profit that recruits pro-parental rights candidates to run for school board seats across the state.  He’s also the executive director of the Sussex County GOP.  Aikens is viewed as a rising star in Sussex County with access to grassroots support and fundraising.

Re-elected to a fifth term with 61% of the vote, Sarnoski has been itching to run for higher office; he made moves to challenge Gottheimer in 2018 but dropped out of the race and endorsed Lonegan.

Another potential candidate, perhaps only if Fantasia opts not to run, is Sussex County Commissioner Chris Carney, a member of the politically powerful International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825.

Space announced his retirement last year as part of a package that helped his wife, Jill Space, capture a seat on the Sussex County Board of Commissioners.

Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Wantage) is planning to seek re-election and is not expected to have any trouble winning renomination.

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