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Rodney Frelinghuysen

The history of special elections in the 25th district

November 15 special election convention to relace Anthony R. Bucco in the State Senate will be the third in the Morris-based district

By David Wildstein, September 26 2019 6:55 am

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The November special election convention to fill the late Senator Anthony R. Bucco’s seat will be the third since the district was created for the 1973 election.

That number could reach four, if Anthony M. Bucco gets the chance to take his father’s seat — and if Senate President Steve Sweeney swears him in quickly.  There will be a contest for the remainder of Bucco’s current term in the Assembly, which expires in January.  

And should Bucco be the only Senator in New Jersey history to win a State Assembly race for a seat he doesn’t want, there would be a fifth special in January to replace him in the lower house until a November 2020 special election.

Legally, if he wins re-election this fall, it’s possible for Bucco to decide he likes the Assembly better.  He could resign from the Senate, triggering another special election convention to replace him there. That’s not going to happen, but it could.

James J. Barry, Jr. (R-Harding) was elected four times to represent Morris County in the State Assembly and spent eight years as state Consumer Affairs Director under Gov. Tom Kean

The first special election came in 1982 when Assemblyman James Barry (R-Harding), a rising star in the Legislature, resigned to become state Director of Consumer Affairs in the administration of newly-elected Governor Tom Kean.

The Consumer Affairs post was highly visible in those days.  Millicent Fenwick (R-Bernardsville) left the Assembly for the same job a decade earlier, and Adam Levin tried to leverage the post he held under Gov. Brendan Byrne for a Union County congressional seat. 

Eight candidates ran at a special Republican convention to pick a nominee to run in an April special election.

The leading contender was Barry’s legislative aide, Susan Connell.  She came from an influential family: her father was Walter Margetts, the New Jersey State Treasurer under Gov. Alfred Driscoll; her mother was Josephine Margetts (R-New Vernon), who served six years in the State Assembly — one of just three women for a while — until losing a State Senate race in 1973,

On the first ballot, Connell lead Rockaway Township Mayor William Bishop by a vote of 54-48.  Joseph Maraziti (R-Boonton), who had served as an Assemblyman, State Senator, and one-term Congressman before losing re-election in the 1974 Watergate landslide, finished third with 30 votes.

Following Maraziti were Randolph Mayor Herbert Steinberg (28), Denville Mayor John O’Keeffe (25), conservative activist Felix Auer (12), Madison Councilwoman Frances Martone (9), and former Madison Mayor Samuel Pepe (1).

Bishop won the second ballot, 126-76.

The special Democratic convention was won by Rockaway Borough Mayor Bob Johnson.  He defeated former Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello by a vote of 73-60.

Democrats almost picked up the seat in an April 20 special election, back in an era when voters decided who would represent them in public office.

Bishop beat Johnson by 802 votes, 43%-38%.  Bishop faced a severe drinking water safety problem in his hometown and lost Rockaway Township by over 900 votes.

Rosemarie Totaro (D-Denville) was an assemblywoman from Morris County from 1974 to 1976 and again from 1978 to 1980.

Former Assemblywoman Rosemarie Totaro (D-Denville) ran as an independent.  She had backed Cresitello for the nomination and didn’t think Johnson or Bishop were up for the job.

Totaro had won the 25th district seat — it was the 23rd back them — in the 1973 Watergate landside, and lost it to Barry in 1975.  She won again in 1977 when Republicans nominated Maraziti, who had been involved in a scandal and had opposed impeachment as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and then lost in 1979 to Republican Arthur Albohn, the Mayor of Hanover. 

She wound up being a spoiler in the race, winning 3,161 votes (19%) — nearly four times the margin of Bishop’s victory.

Bishop’s tenure in the legislature was short-lived.

Three-term Morris County Freeholder Rodney Frelinghuysen was looking for a landing spot after losing a 1982 Republican congressional primary.  He beat Bishop in the 1983 GOP Assembly primary by 3,262 votes.

Had Connell won the Assembly seat, Frelinghuysen would probably not gone to the Legislature.  He would never have challenged Walter and Josephine Margetts’ daughter in a primary.  It’s not clear what he would have done after that; maybe he would still be a freeholder.

The death of Rep. Dean Gallo (R-Parsippany) in 1994 opened the door for a second special election convention for State Assembly after Frelinghuysen was elected to Congress that year.

In a January special election convention to fill the remaining year of Frelinghuysen’s term in Trenton, Anthony R. Bucco, a former Morris County Freeholder and Boonton Mayor,  faced former Morris Township Mayor Richard Watson.

Bucco won by 30 votes, 146 to 116.

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