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State Sen. Holly Schepisi, left, and Saddle River Councilman John Azzariti in 2021. (Photo: Holly Schepisi via Facebook).

Schepisi backing Azzariti to join 39th district ticket

Azzariti was previously Schepisi’s ally against DeFuccio, who is now retiring

By Joey Fox, February 09 2023 1:43 pm

State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) said today that she’s supporting Saddle River Councilman John Azzariti for an open Assembly seat in her district, spurning several other candidates running to succeed Assemblywoman DeAnne DeFuccio (R-Upper Saddle River).

“What I care about is our party, and growing our party,” Schepisi said. “What I care about is winning elections. Out of the candidates who have put forth [their names], John not only can win the election – he’s the strongest candidate, he has an impeccable background and resume, he’s known down here and beloved by people down here, and he brings a lot of value to the ticket.”

DeFuccio had initially announced she was running for re-election alongside Schepisi and Assemblyman Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan), but changed her mind last week and said she was retiring. That left a field of four candidates scrambling to take her place: Azzariti, former Freeholder Todd Caligure, Saddle River GOP chairman Jon Kurpis, and Bergen GOP deputy vice chair Ken Tyburczy.

If Azzariti does ultimately win the Republican nod, it will be something of a delayed victory for Schepisi, who previously backed Azzariti for the Assembly in a wild series of Republican conventions and primaries two years ago. 

In 2021, Schepisi – then an assemblywoman – ran for the 39th district’s Senate seat, which was held by the late State Sen. Gerald Cardinale until he unexpectedly died in the middle of the primary campaign season. With Cardinale out, Auth got in the race instead, leading to a chaotic campaign that Schepisi won 111-103 at the Republican county convention.

Schepisi’s victory meant that another Republican convention had to be held to fill her now-vacant Assembly seat. She backed Azzariti, but DeFuccio, then an Upper Saddle River councilwoman, won instead in another close contest.

The convention wasn’t the end of Schepisi’s efforts to reshape her slate. She endorsed Azzariti and Kurpis – now an Assembly candidate this year as well – in the primary against Auth and DeFuccio, but the party-endorsed incumbents blew Schepisi’s slate out of the water. (Schepisi herself was uncontested for the Senate nomination.)

The relationship between Schepisi and the two assemblymembers recovered enough that they ran as a unified slate in the 2021 general election and announced their re-election campaign jointly this year. But now, with DeFuccio on her way out, Schepisi has the ability to get one of her original allies elected in her place.

Schepisi has a potential primary of her own to deal with, however. Michele LaTour, a member of the Northern Valley Board of Education, has filed with Bergen Republicans to run for the Senate; it’s not clear yet how serious her challenge will be.

The 39th district is a Republican-leaning district in state elections, so whoever emerges from the primary should be fine in November – though Caliguire, one of the four contenders for the Assembly, has experience to the contrary. In his unsuccessful campaign last year against Democratic Bergen County Executive James Tedesco, Caliguire lost the 39th district by a small margin while losing countywide by 11 points.

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