On Tuesday night, the vacancy created when Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-40) left the legislature to take a Passaic County judgeship will be filled. Currently angling for the spot are Wayne Republican Leader Michael Marotta, Wyckoff Mayor Kevin Rooney and outgoing Bergen County Freeholder Maura DeNicola.
While Tuesday’s vote will not decide who gets the support of the district’s three Republican chairmen–Morris County’s John Sette, Passaic County’s John Traier and Bergen County’s Paul DiGaetano–in the November 2017 election to fill the slot for a full term, the vacancy has created significant tension in the Republican-leaning district.
While the already-announced 2017 slate of Passaic County Clerk Kristin Corrado, Rooney and former Wyckoff Mayor Chris Dephillips has a candidate up for the vacancy (Rooney), the district’s chairmen announced that they would not be supporting the slate in 2017 due to association with Passaic County Republican Leader Peter Murphy due to his attendance at an event with 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy and Democratic freeholder Terry Duffy. After pulling the plug on the 2017 slate the three chairmen backed Marotta for the legislative opening.
Rooney and his team fired back last week after a 2015 donation made by a PAC affiliated with Marotta surfaced. That $1,000 donation made by the North Jersey Republican PAC was for the re-election campaign of Democratic Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36). The group also lobbed complaints at Sette, Traier and DiGaetano for past donations to Democrats and questioned Marotta for an alleged connection between his PAC’s donation and a raise for Marotta at his place of employment, the Passaic Valley Water Commission. Marotta has maintained that he was unaware of the donation and has no intention of abandoning his pursuit of the vacancy.
Due to a 2005 donation to Schaer, Traier was called upon to resign. However, the Passaic County Republican chairman fired back last week with a letter to county committee members reasserting his support for Marotta and defending his donation. He said that donations made by chairmen to those made by Murphy–which he totaled “in excess of $13,000”–could not be compared.
“We are in a fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party and I am not surprised that Peter Murphy and his hand-picked team of Corrado, Rooney, and DePhillips are attempting to distract from their open support of Democrats,” Traier wrote.
The letter continued: “I hate to disappoint the Peter Murphy hacks who attacked me [Monday]. But Gary Schaer was a Republican until 2005. Since then, while a friend and neighbor, I have not contributed to his election campaigns. I have supported Republicans consistently throughout my long career in Passaic County.”
On Monday–the day before the vacancy will be filled– Observer obtained an e-mail sent by district 40 elected officials state Senator Kevin O’Toole and Assemblyman David Russo. In that e-mail, both men call on those in the district to back Rooney for the position. The scramble for legislative district 40 began in January when O’Toole announced he would be retiring upon completion of his term.
The e-mail read: “We wanted to take the opportunity to ask for your vote for Kevin Rooney to fill that vacancy. We ask for your vote because Kevin Rooney is the most qualified candidate to fill this vacancy. Kevin has been a loyal Republican and dedicated public servant to his community. He has supported ONLY Republican candidates with his time and money. He has served the residents of Wyckoff with honor and dignity, while NEVER taking a salary or stipend for his work.”
The legislators also said that they fully support the 2017 Corrado ticket because “this ticket represents not only some of the best public servants our district has to offer – and our district has some of the best our State has to offer, but this ticket also offers the appropriate level of representation based on the composition of our district.” According to the letter, the slate is balanced as it provides two Bergen County members of the legislature (Rooney and DePhillips) and the first Passaic County senator in the district in 14 years.
The vote will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Passaic County GOP headquarters in Wayne.