LD 38 Assembly race: Bergen GOP examines candidates, Christie ripple effect


When the Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) selects its two Assembly candidates for the state 38th Legislative District at its nominating convention on March 16, its members will have a dual goal: find winning candidates, and find a way to deal with criticism of Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Three potential GOP state Assembly candidates have come forward seeking to represent the Bergen-dominated LD 38: River Edge Councilman Anthony Cappola, attorney Mark DiPisa, and Ed Trawinski, who was Bergen County Administrator for former Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan. The two candidates that get the Republican party line will go up against Democratic incumbents Tim Eustace and Joseph Lagana.

All three candidates were present in Fair Lawn on Wednesday to watch Christie conduct his latest town hall meeting. With the popularity of Christie, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, sinking to an all-time low in New Jersey in recent weeks and with National Review, an influential conservative magazine, set to publish a cover story critical of Christie’s economic record in New Jersey, PolitickerNJ asked two prominent Republicans how present Christie will be in voters’ minds this November.

“Blaming Chris Christie for the state of the economy is outrageous,” said BCRO Chairman Bob Yudin. “When he became governor [in 2010], [former Democratic Gov.] Jon Corzine presented him with a huge deficit. The Democrats, in order to get reelected, have given away everything but the kitchen sink. People might blame the governor, but it’s not fair to blame him.”

“I’ve been in this business long enough to realize that the picture is much broader than the article or the headline of the day,” said state Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21), who is leading the Republican effort to take back the state Assembly in 2015. “The governor is not up for election. Whether or not people like or dislike the governor, that’s not the issue we will be talking about in District 38. The problem that we have now is that this is an expensive state to do business, with a Democratic Legislature that continues to want to raise taxes, and these are the consequences.”

Elections have consequences, and the fallout from last year’s Bergen County Executive race could also contribute to which LD 38 GOP candidates ultimately make it on the ballot.

Donovan, the Republican incumbent, lost by a decisive margin to Democrat Jim Tedesco. A Bergen Republican source close to the situation expressed some concerns about Trawinski’s candidacy after hearing him speak at a BCRO beefsteak dinner earlier this week.

“Trawinski tried to say that he was an employee of Kathe [Donovan], and that he basically had to follow orders. For a guy who wants to get elected to say whatever the boss said, I did, that’s not good,” the source said. “There is still infighting going on in the party, and for some people, Trawinski is Kathe. And those people want to kill anything that comes from Kathe. I’m hoping more for Cappola, who is a new face and who has made an effort to reach out to Latinos, which we need, and DiPisa, who is also trying to reach out to different communities.”

Another Bergen Republican source commented on the idea that if the GOP successfully mobilizes their base in November, their Assembly candidates will win.

“Where is Jim Tedesco from? Paramus. What district is Paramus in? It’s in LD 38,” the other Republican source said. “In this election, they need to look at the numbers, then figure out how to get the best get-out-the-vote effort established and how to raise the most money. The Democrats, who were all over D.C. during the Chamber of Commerce trip, are going to put Ed Trawinski under the microscope, so Republicans better be ready. This is [Bergen County Democratic Chairman] Lou Stellato’s chance to put the final nail in the coffin.”

Yudin, often a rival of Donovan in years past, defended Trawinski’s potential candidacy.

“For those people who are so outraged at Kathe that anybody who worked in her administration, they’re against, I don’t support that at all,” Yudin said. “You cannot hold the people who worked in her administration responsible for Kathe Donovan’s policies. Anytime that someone works for somebody, you make your arguments, and then if the decision is not to your liking, your choice is to implement it or leave the position.”

Bergen County Freeholder John Felice endorsed fellow Republican Cappola last month, while a source close to Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino indicated that the sheriff would temporarily opt out of any direct involvement in the LD 38 Assembly candidate selection process.

Yudin, stating he felt Felice “is part of the team,” pressed forward with a mantra needed for a GOP victory in the months ahead.

“We need a unified party,” Yudin said. “We have no chance of winning at any level if we are not unified.”

LD 38 Assembly race: Bergen GOP examines candidates, Christie ripple effect