The potential candidacy of Sussex County Freeholder Sylvia Petillo for Congress in the 11th district is sparking an interesting conversation among some Republican insiders: is her age – 67 – a disqualifying factor in considering her potential candidacy.
Petillo spoke recently with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), a conversation that reportedly focused on her ability to raise money – and her willingness to invest personal financial resources on the race. But sources familiar with the candidate selection process suggest that ageism may be a factor as she actively explores a run for Rodney Frelinghuysen’s seat.
One Republican leader suggested that it makes little sense for the party to replace a 71-year-old congressman retiring after 24 years in Congress with a person who is just four years younger. Two of the leading candidates are significantly younger: Democrat Mikie Sherrill is 41 and Republican Jay Webber is 45.
In the 7th district, attorney Scott Salmon is also tackling an age discrimination issue in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Congress to run against Rep. Leonard Lance. He is 27.
It’s fair to point out that the front runner to take Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s seat in the 2nd district, State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, will turn 65 next year. Democrats made a clear decision to go with Van Drew, who has considerable electoral strength in a district the GOP has held for 24 years, instead of 31-year-old Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak. And in 2002, Democrats picked 78-year-old Frank Lautenberg for a U.S. Senate seat that he held for another eleven years.
Millicent Fenwick was 64 when she won her first race for Congress in 1974, after Frelinghuysen’s father retired at age 58.
Petillo, a former Mayor of Hopatcong who grew up in Newark, faces a tougher hurdle than age: geography. Sussex County represents just 8% of the Republican primary vote, and her tiny base is already fractured with Webber landing some early endorsements from Sussex GOP leaders.