In the 8th district, three GOP incumbents could be on their way out

Republican Assemblymen Francis Bodine and Larry Chatzidakis view themselves as potential State Senate candidates when embattled incumbent Martha Bark finally announces next year that she will not seek re-election to a fifth term. But GOP sources in Burlington County say that not only are Bodine and Chatzidakis — neither viewed as legislative giants — not under serious consideration for the Senate seat, but they could get tossed from the Assembly as well. The 77-year-old Bark is reportedly the subject of a state Attorney General’s investigation into her employment with the Burlington County Bridge Commission and the Burlington County Institute of Technology between 1997 and 2003. Bodine, who turns 71 next month, has been in the Assembly since 1993 and in public office for thirty years, wants to move up to the Senate. Burlington Republicans historically move people up the ladder — Mayor to Freeholder, Freeholder to Assembly, Assembly to Senate — but it’s been years since the last opening. By virtue of his seniority, Bodine views the Bark seat as his. Chatzidakis didn’t impress his party earlier this year when he missed all the state budget votes. He was on vacation in Greece and refused to return to Trenton, even though state government was forced to shut down during the budget impasse. At the time, some Republicans from his home county suggested that his $49,000-a-year part-time job should at least ensure his attendance during budget votes. But Burlington Republicans are running things a little differently these days, especially after losing the race for Surrogate (their first loss in a countywide election since 1989) and the recent admission by lobbyist and ex-GOP operative Robert Stears that he over billed the BCBC for hundreds of thousands of dollars. In response to the threats to their electoral future, Republicans last week picked a political unknown with few ties to party heavyweights to succeed Garfield DeMarco , once the Burlington GOP boss, as BCBC Chairman. Voter registration in Burlington is almost evenly divided between Republicans (52,078) and Democrats (50,825), with 58% of the voters without party affiliation. Democratic U.S. Senator Robert Menendez won Burlington by 7,063 votes and a Republican statewide candidate hasn’t won there since Bob Franks’ 3,721 vote win six years ago. Next year, Republicans will have to defend the seat of five-term Freeholder Vincent Farias, who lost his bid for Surrogate. Many Republicans believe Farias will not run in 2007. There is some speculation among Republicans that Col. Michael Warner, the County Chairman, could decide to push Bark, Bodine and the 57-year-old Chatzidakis into retirement. Ironically, the problem for Warner is the huge backlog of talent that comes from the same three legislators serving together for a dozen years. By picking three fresh faces to represent the solidly-Republican eighth district, Warner would have to turn down the dozens of others who want to move up. For a party leader, sometimes it is easier to do nothing than to say no. Warner could opt to pick himself as the GOP Senate candidate. The retired Army Colonel and former state Deputy Commissioner of Military and Veterans was on the short list of legislative candidates before he succeeded Glenn Paulsen as Republican County Chairman in 2004. The conventional wisdom has been that Medford Mayor (and current Deputy Mayor) Scott Rudder is a likely candidate for an open seat, as are Freeholders Dawn Addiego and William Haines, Jr., whose whose father represented the district in the Assembly and Senate from 1981 until his death in 1996.

In the 8th district, three GOP incumbents could be on their way out