Feisty Republican ready to take on Sarlo

It’s not all gloom and doom for Bergen County Republicans. Out of the election day carnage came what could be prove to be a bright spot for GOP morale.

His name is Mike Guarino, a former Bergen County health commissioner and constant thorn in the side of local politicians.

While there’s no question his candidacy is a long shot — a Hail Mary even — he will at least provide some kind of challenge to Democratic State Senator Paul Sarlo.

“I’m 78 years old and running for office,” said Guarino. “I must need to have my head examined.”

A Democrat until he tried to file at the last minute for the Republican primary two months ago, Guarino was knocked off the ballot because of a lack of signatures. But he got more than enough write in votes to win the GOP nomination – and the chance to take on Sarlo.

Sarlo’s support for the controversial Encap golf village in Lyndhurst and Rutherford convinced Guarino to run. Now he is a candidate in a race that no other Republicans wanted to touch, and he is going to make sure the Democrats aren’t going to go without criticism as they watch the local Republican Party implode.

“I don’t like the way the county’s going. Joe Ferriero, the way he runs the county, he’s a little dictator,” said Guarino.

Sarlo’s campaign will be funded by Red Faction, a GOP group in Bergen, and his advisors hope to get money from the Republican State Committee as well.

At the very least, Guarino’s candidacy will force Sarlo to talk about Encap, said spokesman Thom Ammirato, who noted the connections between Sarlo’s campaign and Encap developers. The race will also force Sarlo to spend money on his own re-election bid, which will mean less money to other local Democratic campaigns and for his fledgling campaign for Senate Majority Leader.

“Everybody wrote us off — you’ve got Republicans who are caving into Sarlo because they think he’s all powerful and can’t be beaten. We want prove them wrong,” said Ammirato. “And you don’t want Sarlo left alone with a huge war chest to give to other candidates.”

Guarino’s campaign consultant will be Rick Shaftan, a veteran conservative strategist with a history of making the most out of a tight budget — and for not being afraid to throw some nuclear bombs when necessary. In 1991, Shaftan was the architect of conservative John Scott’s upset win in the 36th district Senate race.

But while Sarlo has said that he will campaign seriously against Guarino, a former Lyndurst school board member, they’re still not convinced they have a real race on their hands.

“Who’s Mike Guarino kidding. He doesn’t even have the support of the Republican Party,” said Chris Eilert, a spokesman for Sarlo. “Not a single Republican mayor or councilmember has endorsed him, nor did they sign his illegal nominated petitions. In fact, most Republican officeholders support Senator Sarlo’s reelection effort.” Feisty Republican ready to take on Sarlo