Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) is looking at the congressional seat Rodney Frelinghuysen will vacate after this year, but the #Me Too movement that has focused attention on sexual harassment and assault might make his timing unfortunate.
While the five-term Assemblyman has never been accused of wrongdoing, insiders from both parties agree that his candidacy would cause a rehashing of an old and very public sexual harassment scandal involving his father, State Sen. Anthony R. Bucco (R-Boonton).
Five weeks after he won a second term in 2001, Bucco’s former legislative aide alleged that her job on Bucco’s Senate staff required that she engage in a sexual relationship with him. The aide claimed that Bucco’s wife learned of the affair and demanded that she be fired from his staff, and from a job at the Lake Hopatcong Regional Planning Board – a post she said Bucco helped her get. A harassment suit was filed in federal court against Bucco and the New Jersey Senate; Bucco countersued his ex-staffer.
The lawsuit against Bucco and the state were settled in 2004, on the condition that the terms remain confidential. The lack of transparency in taxpayer-funded settlements was not as potent an issue then as it is today.
Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) is the sponsor of legislation that would prohibit taxpayer-funded settlements for sexual harassment claims against congressmen.
“Such secrecy is a gross betrayal of public trust and must end immediately,” Lance said when he introduced his bill.
Bucco, an attorney, had input into his father’s response to the lawsuit.
There is little chance for Bucco the younger to avoid a public discussion of his father’s past in competitive primary and general elections. Bucco knows this – and the gender challenges Republicans face in 2018 – and few insiders expect him to run.
As for Bucco the elder, the scandal seems to be in his rear-view mirror. He’s been re-elected five times since the story broke in December 2001. Bucco was re-elected last November with just 52% of the vote against a first-time candidate, Lisa Bhimani. He would never have survived in today’s political climate – if the Harvey Weinstein story had run three weeks earlier, Bhimani would be a Senator — but voters get to decide what issues they care about and when they care about them.