Chris Tully, a top aide to Rep. Josh Gottheimer, is emerging as a leading candidate to fill one of the two vacant State Assembly seats in the Bergen County-based 38th district.
Democrats must fill the seats of Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus), who moved up to the State Senate when Bob Gordon resigned to join the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, and Tim Eustace, who quit to become the deputy executive director of the North Jersey District Water Commission.
Tully, 34, served two terms as a Bergenfield councilman before resigning last year to become Gottheimer’s district director. He previously worked for Gov. Richard Codey, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, and Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco.
Sources say that Tully has now supplanted Bergenfield Council President Arvin Amatorio, who has been slated to become the first Filipino-American in the New Jersey Legislature. There are now some rumblings of discontent within the Fil-Am community, who believe they had a commitment for Amatorio to take the seat.
The top candidate had been expected to be Mayor Lisa Swain, although sources say her ascent to the Assembly is now less certain than it was two weeks ago.
Democrats are concerned that her 2014 opposition to a plan to eliminate taxpayer-funded health care benefits for part-time elected officials could emerge as an issue in a district that was initially drawn to be politically competitive. Swain was the only local official to take health benefits. She was re-elected in 2015, but only by 139 votes against Republican Marc Zharnest.
Oradell Councilwoman Tracy Schoenberg, who works for the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, had reportedly been interested in the seat, but Democrats appear firm in their desire to put a Fair Lawn candidate on the ticket.
Lagana and the two Democrats who are picked in a special election convention this month to run for the Assembly will be on the ballot in the November general election.
Republicans are still seeking candidates. Former Freeholder John Felice is mulling a Senate bid, but still has not made a final decision about running. Former Bergen County Parks Department director Ron Kistner is expected to run for one of the Assembly seats on the GOP ticket.