Bucco v. Chegs: Public sector ties at heart of GOP senate debate in Christie’s home district

A day after state Sen. Tony Bucco (R-25) announced the support of Gov. Chris Christie, his GOP Primary challenger retaliated with the charge that Bucco is an obstacle – not a conduit – to Republican government reforms – as each side enmeshed in public work tries to ensnare the other as the more hazardous public menace.

Today, Morris County Freeholder Director/Wharton Mayor William Chegwidden objected to Bucco paying over $44,000 to two law partners of his son, Assemblyman Tony Bucco’s law firm, Johnson, Murphy, Hubner, McKeon, Wubbenhorst, Bucco & Appelt, for legislative work from 1995 – 2009, as his upstart campaign broadened the attack to envelop the career of government attorney Assemblyman Tony Bucco, Jr., the senator’s son.

“It is a serious abuse of power, that Senator Bucco would use taxpayer money to pay his son’s law partners tens of thousands of dollars,” said Chegwidden. “This kind of nepotism and patronage is what has rightly caused the public to lose faith in government.”

Although the veteran Bucco – long-standing owner of a glue manufacturing business – has Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election endorsement, Chegwidden trumpeted his ability to more convincingly stand with the governor’s agenda – as he zinged both Bucco and Bucco, Jr.

“I support Governor Christie’s efforts to reform this type of abuse,” said the challenger. “Senator Bucco should know better than to so transparently act in his own self-interest. Assemblyman Bucco’s law partners have discretion over his compensation – for them to have taxpayer-funded jobs that receive credit in the pension system, from Senator Bucco’s office, is a breach of the public trust. This type of cronyism and patronage must not be tolerated. New Jersey, under Governor Christie’s leadership, is beginning to gain the reputation as a model for ethical, honest behavior and government reform and this does not represent government at its best. I call on Senator Bucco to immediately disclose what these law partners did to earn this salary: Where did they appear on behalf of the senator? Show us the work product they produced that was worth $44,000!”

The Bucco campaign responded, immediately highlighting Chegwidden’s most obvious political shortcomings in a short runway election befoe June 7: the fact that he triple dips as a freeholder, mayor and public history teacher.

“We are not surprised that we are already seeing desperate and baseless attacks from Bill Chegwidden,” said Campaign Spokesman Bill Hildebrand. “He will say anything to avoid a discussion of his documented record of runaway spending and higher taxes, not to mention his three taxpayer-funded jobs and two public pensions. The only person in this campaign with a conflict of interest is triple-dipping Bill Chegwidden.”

With four weeks to go until election day and in the aftermath of redistricting, the elder Bucco and his team face the prospect of a shape-shifted landscape in which 25% of their legislative district is new territory. Although there are subdued belly laughs from insiders over the government-encumbered Chegwidden’s efforts to contrast himself with Bucco, the senator and his team are running a serious campaign in an effort to thoroughly stymie the challenger and the challenger’s chief criticism: that it’s the Buccos and not himself who are getting the bigger public bankroll.

Ever since the Republican budget officer and Morris County establishment GOP leader supported the 2009 elevation of his son to the Assembly seat, back chatter among his critics carried an edge, and this year, the anti-Buccos found a young establishment champion in Chegwidden, whose public jobs are a pittance compared to the public cash infusion of Bucco, Jr., say the challenger’s allies.

Chegwidden makes $75,000 as a teacher, $25,000 as freeholder director and $6,000 as mayor.

“Bucco’s making half a million per year,” said Chegwiddden spokesman Alan Zakin, referring to the younger Bucco, the municipal attorney of Netcong and Roxbury, which both fall within the 25th District – Netcong a new addition as of this year.

Still, the public attorney side of the veteran’s assemblyman son hasn’t translated into much visible anti-Bucco sentiment. A resident of the district and himself a former freeholder who challenged the Bucco power structure, the governor yesterday issued his statement of support for Bucco. A senator since 1998, the elder Bucco also enjoys the backing of U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11) and most other Morris County public officials – with the exception of Freeholder John Murphy and Chester Mayor Bill Cogger.

A freeholder since 2005, Chegwidden arrived in office as a 2005 victor in a field of nine candidates. His allies say he has had six years now to represent the entire county, a factor that may work to his advantage as he attempts to fight the Buccos for new ground – more than leveled, they argue, by the public sector storyline of the younger Bucco. Bucco v. Chegs: Public sector ties at heart of GOP senate debate in Christie’s home district