For the last couple weeks, Passaic County has buzzed with talk of Republican activist Joe Caruso mounting an Assembly primary bid to take down incumbent Scott Rumana (R-Wayne).
Reached for comment today, Caruso downplayed the prospect but did not rule it out entirely.
"Not to bloat my own ego, but I have too many ideas I want to share with the state, and to go into a position in the Assembly, my first question is what can you do to affect change as an assemblyman?," said Caruso, a Passaic County native who heads up the finance wing of the Republican Party in neighboring Bergen County and runs a finance firm.
If Caruso does decide to run, however, he will limit his campaign to targeting Rumana, and not Assemblyman Dave Russo (R-Ridgewood), who he described as a "gentleman."
Normally, an Assemblyman is in a strong position to affect change. But not as a member of the minority party, Caruso said.
"There are so many issues that need to be addressed in Trenton, but my question is how do you affect change by standing there and yelling into the woods?," he said.
The issue Caruso is most concerned about: the business climate in New Jersey. Citing a reports from the Small business and Entrepreneurial Council and the Tax Foundation, Caruso said that New Jersey tends to rank dead last in how business-friendly the climate is. Fix that, and it will go a long way towards fixing the deficit, he said.
"What are these people doing in Trenton? It's very frustrating," said Caruso. "All I can tell you is that this is a state with so much opportunity, a great worker population base, close proximity to New York, an international airport, rail lines, major roads that can't get itself out of debt," said Caruso.
Caruso also expressed frustration about both Democrats' and Republicans' stances on the new Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) regulations, health care, the environment and what to do with the site of the ill-fated EnCap Project in Bergen County, which he believes should be turned into a solar farm.
Rumana, however, said that he's proud of his legislative accomplishments – particularly his opposition to the COAH regulations. Instead, he chalked the talk of a primary challenge up to his rivals in Passaic County Republican politics, led by former Party Chairman Peter Murphy.
"I expect the Murphy gang to challenge us, and Joe has been palling around with this guy," said Rumana. "It's not Joe Caruso. This is the Murphy gang. And that's what you're going to hear over and over again. You're going to get tired of hearing about it, and unfortunately I'm going to have to keep going to the fact that if you want to join the convicted felons gang, you're going to be on the wrong side of politics. They will lose, and anyone attached to him will lose in 2009 and beyond." (Murphy was convicted of three corruption counts in 2001. The convictions were overturned, but Murphy pleaded guilty to one county so as not to face a new trial).
Caruso, however, promises that he will not run if he doesn't think he can win.
"If I ran, I can make one commitment: I would win. I won't lose," he said.