If Heather Darling wins her race for Morris County Surrogate in two weeks, Republican County Committee members will need to hold a special election convention to fill her seat on the Morris County Board of Freeholders.
The calendar for the only freeholder seat up for election in 2020 is tight: the convention will likely be held in mid-to-late January, the filing deadline is in early April, and the Republican primary is in June.
The winner of the race to replace Darling on an interim basis would have only a slight edge of incumbency.
Possible candidates include two former freeholders: David Scapicchio and John Cesaro. Scapicchio was elected to the Board of Freeholders in 2013 and lost renomination in the 2015 primary; he also made a comeback bid in 2017 and lost the GOP primary to Darling. Cesaro lost his bid for re-election in 2018 when he was beaten in the Republican primary.
Donald Dinsmore, a former State Assembly staff attorney who unsuccessfully challenged three incumbent freeholders in the June 2019 primary, could also emerge as a potential candidate. So is Chatham Township Mayor Tayfun Selen.
Indeed, it’s likely that between Election Day and the end of the year, a plethora of potential candidates might emerge to succeed Darling, should she prevail in her Surrogate race against Democrat Michael Thompson.
The race to succeed Darling would be held under the backdrop of several other high-profile party contests, including a June election for Morris County Republican Chairman. Ronald DeFilippis, elected by just four votes in 2018, is almost certain to face opposition – if he even runs again.
If Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) wins re-election to his 25th district Assembly seat next month – he faces the toughest race of his career so far – it will trigger another special election convention to replace him. Bucco is set to take his late father’s State Senate seat on Thursday and has no intention of serving in the Assembly next year.
In that case, Morris Republicans have the option of holding both special election conventions on the same night – something that could save the cash-strapped party some money – but they are under no legal obligation to do that. The 7 to 35-day window to fill Darling’s vacancy would start on January 1, while Bucco seat would technically not become vacant until the Legislature reorganizes on January 14.
Complicating matters just a little will be the necessity of another special election convention in the 25th district – something that will happen whether Bucco wins or loses his Assembly race next month.
To take the Senate seat on Thursday, Bucco will need to resign from the State Assembly. That will require Republicans to meet between October 29 and November 26 to pick a replacement legislator to complete Bucco’s current term, which expires on January 14.
There has been some speculation that Morris County Freeholder Stephen Shaw, who defeated Cesaro in the 2018 primary, might look to run for Bucco’s Assembly seat. If that happens — and if he were to win — it would trigger another special election convention to fill his county seat. And if that happens, the winner would be on the ballot in 2020 for a special election to fill the unexpired term.
Bucco will face the voters again in 2020 when he must run in a special election to fill the remaining fourteen months of his father’s term. He’ll need to get through both a primary and general election.
If Bucco wins re-election to the Assembly, the new Republican interim legislator will also need to run in special 2020 primary and general elections.