PARSIPPANY – The Morris County Freeholder race was already competitive.
Now, it’s war.
Morris County Republican Chairman John Sette and state Senator Anthony Bucco (R-25) and his son Assemblyman Tony Bucco, Jr had stayed, at least publicly, out of the fray.
Now they’re backing the Krickus-Scapicchio-Smith team over their rivals, a move that openly pits the veteran Bucco and the party chairman against state Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26), who backs incumbent Freeholder John Cesaro, leader of the opposing slate.
Senator versus Senator in a Republican Freeholder Primary.
“Down in Trenton we’re fighting with Governor Christie to end years of reckless Democrat over-spending, borrowing, and runaway tax increases,” said Senator Bucco. “Back home, we need strong fiscal conservatives like John Krickus, Dave Scapacchio and Deb Smith on the Freeholder Board who are committed to fighting for balanced budgets without higher taxes.”
The trio of establishment Republicans cited the influence of a Democratic Party-affiliated political action committee (PAC), Forward Central Jersey, on the Cesaro team.
The group gave $8,400 to Cesaro’s team, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
“Unfortunately, Democrat special interests are meddling in our Republican Primary, trying to achieve something they can’t do in a general election,” said Sette. “When a political group registered with the state of New Jersey as a ‘Democrat’ organization empties its bank account with an $8,400 donation in a Republican Primary, it raises some serious questions about the commitment of the Cesaro team to our Republican principles.
“Combine that with mailers, phone calls and paid walkers funded with tens of thousands of dollars in dark money – where we have no idea who is writing the checks to these organizations – it’s not only skirting the spirit of pay to play ethics laws and good government, it’s also clear they aren’t doing it because they’re backing the strongest Republican candidates,” the chairman added.
For his part, Pennacchio brushed aside as sheer politics Sette’s and Bucco’s efforts to brand Cesao and company an unduly Democratic Party-influenced outfit.
But the endorsement by the senator and party chairman did prompt Pennacchio to throw his support behind not just Cesaro, but the entire Cesaro team.
“I’m supporting the whole team,” the 26th District senator said.
He was unapologetic about the significant influence of labor on Cesaro’s ticket.
“It’s part of my duties as assistant Republican leader to build the party,” he said. “i work very hard to grow my party. I have a great relationship with labor. Labor supports Republicans and Democrats. I’m still considered very conservative. Everyone’s that complaining about this takes money from labor. It’s a little disingenuous to say ‘you’ve taken labor support.’ The issue to me is they [Krickus and Scapicchio] gave $100,000 to Democratic consultants even before public policy was decided on the [county] police department. Where was the uproar then? The fact that they made an issue out of trying to grow the party indicates a double standard.”
Bucco and Sette and Pennacchio have been at odds behind the scenes for some time now over a seat on the Morris County Board of Taxation. The party chairman and the 25th District senator wanted Marilyn Cioffe for the position. But Gov. Chris Christie nominated Ben Seltzer, Pennaccho’s choice.
Now Bucco’s exercising senatorial courtesy to block the nominee, rankling Pennacchio’s allies, who say the delay has enabled Democrats to maintain control of the board 3-2.
Questioned about the vacancy, Pennacchio said, “I’m still working hard with the powers that be.”
In at least one debate, Krickus – critical of his rivals’ campaign fundraising – drew a distinction between the Democratic Party-affiliated PAC and labor.
But Sette went after the labor money, noting that the operating engineers union donated $24,600 directly to Cesaro-Tedesco-Myers, accounting for more than 50% of all funds raised in the campaign, according to published ELEC reports.
“I am not against unions helping the Morris County Republican Committee get Republicans elected in November,” said Sette. “I’m against them trying to disrupt our primary. I don’t know what promises were made to these Democratic PACs and unions that would warrant this level of financial support.”
Cesaro Team campaign spokesman King Penna called on Sette and “the Bucco Dynasty” to “get outside of their glass houses before throwing stones.”
“With all due respect, Chairman Sette and Assemblyman Bucco need to stop with the blatant hypocrisy,” Penna said. “We examined campaign finance reports filed with NJ ELEC and found that former Senator Bucco and current Assemblyman Bucco, the Bucco Dynasty, have taken money from the same groups as our campaign. $16,700 from left-leaning PACS according to our count. The Bucco Dynasty even took money from the NJEA, yet Scapicchio, Krickus and Smith haven’t said a word. On top of that Chairman Sette accepted $37,000 from the very same organization he complains we took $8,400 from.
“The bogus attacks from Scapicchio, Krickus, Smith and their allies are hypocritical and designed to hide the fact our opponents have a record of failed leadership, accepting illegal health benefits, and broken campaign promises,” the spokesman added. “Voters will see right through their smokescreen and vote for Cesaro, Myers and Tedesco because they are real leaders with a solid plan for ethical reform and economic growth.”