Running against DeCroce, Signorino says minority leader failed to recruit new leaders

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WHIPPANY – A Sunday afternoon Steve Lonegan house party goes well until the campaign introduces Lou Signorino, a young Republican businessman running for office, who at first receives instantaneous good feeling as a well-spoken young conservative presence who appears committed to taking the fight to Trenton.

With Lonegan out of commission and in the hospital fighting a kidney stone* – Signorino briefly assumes a more central role in the packed house of Lonegan backers Bill and Barbara Eames.

“Who are you running against?” asks a smiling former Mayor Bob Steiger – apparently ready to hear the name of a well-heeled Democrat from a neighboring county.

This town hasn’t gone “D” locally since the 1950s, and a crowd of close to 50 people here ready to battle on Lonegan’s behalf figures Signorino intends to go out and topple one.

Then comes his answer to the question – “DeCroce” – and slowly it sinks into the room that Signorino means to challenge, yes, everyone heard properly, Republican Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany) of the 26th Legislative District.

No one goes into panic mode, but there are a few drawn breaths in the seconds before Steiger improvises.

“Alex DeCroce serves this district,” says the former mayor. “We find him to be a very good man.”

“Personally, he’s a nice man, but as a leader he’s failed,” says Signorino, who owns an area construction company and lives in West Milford. “As a leader, he hasn’t recruited new leaders throughout the state.”

Case in point, the challenger says later, was DeCroce’s neutral stance in the 2007 Assembly Primary between party insider Larry Casha and movement conservative Jay Webber, a young up-and-comer who beat Casha.

“I backed Jay Webber, and Alex DeCroce stayed out of it,” said Signorino, who does't appear to mind that Webber could be collateral of his attempt to take down DeCroce.

Maybe that's because DeCroce's 26th district mate Webber supports former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in the gubernatorial primary, the man DeCroce affectionately calls “governor,” and who Lonegan seeks to portray as an opportunist residing in his party’s mushy middle.

Of course, Signorino firmly backs Lonegan, who in turn backs him against DeCroce.

Barbara Eames, a teacher in whose home the volunteers gathered today, loves Lonegan, but she doesn’t know about the gubernatorial candidate’s young charge in the 26th District.

“I have been aware of Steve for several years,” said Eames. “I appreciated his fight against the stem cell research referendum, and his argument about Estonia and Chile adopting Milton Friedman free market economic principles that created booming economies, even as our governor announced that his role model was Swedish Socialist Dag Hammarskjöld. I watched Steve get arrested handing out literature on public property at that Corzine dog and pony show to sell his toll roads plan. This s America, not Nazi Germany.

“But I’m not honestly sure where I fall on that one,” she said to the question of whether she intends to support Signorino. “I don’t know who this person is. I really don’t yet. It’s important to be independent, like Steve – so I don’t want to just support someone I don’t know.”

Eames said she respects Christie for his work as U.S. Attorney, but doesn’t fears a retread of the John McCain presidential campaign last year.

“Maybe McCain didn’t win because he wasn’t conservative enough,” she said.

Hanover Township Mayor Leonardo Fariello attended Eames’ house party for Lonegan supporters today, and he likes Lonegan.

“But I just think Chris Christie has a better chance at it because he has better name ID,” Fariello said. “As for the young gentleman running Alex DeCroce, no, I support DeCroce. I don’t know that young gentleman. All I know is Alex would become majority leader if we win back the legislature, so I support Alex DeCroce.”

*Lonegan was discharged from the hospital later Sunday.

Running against DeCroce, Signorino says minority leader failed to recruit new leaders