The news that State Sen. Joseph Coniglio received a target letter from federal prosecutors can’t hurt Republican Robert Colletti’s chances to win a state Senate seat, but Bergen GOP leaders are responding to the news cautiously.
“It's always sobering when there are serious accusations that an elected official has violated the public trust, but we'll wait for the legal process to play out,” said Bergen County GOP Chairman Robert Ortiz, who was elected earlier this week.
Colletti is running a shoe string campaign in the 38th District, which normally leans strongly toward the Democrats. But Coniglio’s potential legal troubles may give the campaign a boost — even if Coniglio is replaced by another candidate, according to Colletti’s campaign.
“Obviously it’s a sad day for the Coniglio family,” said Colletti campaign spokesman Thom Ammirato. “We plan on running a race on what we were always going to run a race on, which is taxes and corruption – whether Mr. Coniglio is in or is not in the race does not change our strategy and perspective.”
Ammirato said he hopes this development will cause the state Republican Party to take another look at the race and consider pouring more resources into it.
“Certainly some of the state republicans need to realize that there was an opportunity here before this. Now I think this enhances it. Clearly whoever steps into Mr. Coniglio’s shoes is going to wear the baggage he inherited from Coniglio,” said Ammirato.
But Republicans will still face an uphill battle, said David Rebovich, managing director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics.
“Nobody is saying Coniglio has to step down. However, if the heat is on and he stays in the race, Colletti’s chances improve significantly,” said Rebovich. But, he added “It’s not just a seat that’s at stake here but possibly control of the State Senate, and Democrats will do almost anything necessary to maintain that control — whether it’s pouring in record setting sums of money from the state party or PACs or tapping the candidate on the shoulder and saying ‘time to get out.’