Wanted: home in FLOW area, contact Paul DiGaetano, senator@d40.nj.us

By now, anyone who cares to know has discovered that Republican Hank McNamara, State Senator of NJ's 40th District, has announced his retirement, leaving an open Senate seat in a solidly Republican district that covers Southwest Bergen, central Passaic, plus 2 conservative towns in Essex County.

With less than 4 weeks before the filing deadline by which any potential candidate must submit his or her petitions to seek the Republican nomination in the June Primary, and only 2 weeks before the Bergen County Republican convention, at which the County Committee members award "the line", one can only recall the words of Homer Simpson, "Oh, I see. Then everything is wrapped up in a neat little packAGGGGE...Really, I mean that. Sorry if it sounded sarcastic."

Of course, I am referring to the long-expected news that Assemblyman Kevin O'Toole will position himself to assume McNamara's seat (a boon for the GOP as that would give senatorial courtesy to block juicy appointments in Essex County, as O'Toole lives in Cedar Grove), while Assemblyman David Russo will retain his seat, and popular Wayne Mayor but simultaneously struggling freshman Passaic County GOP Chairman Scott Rumana will seek the Assembly seat vacated by O'Toole.

How the Passaic County GOP will award the line to its sitting Chairman remains a mystery and frankly raises eyebrows. If additional candidates wish to present their credentials given this opening, how will they be given the opportunity to do so? By random coincidence, I happened to speak with one such individual last night, who has aspirations to hold office in this district, but as a loyal Republican chose not to wage a divisive primary. But seeking an open seat in a "safe" district is not disloyal, far from it. To be clear, nobody has the right to "inherit" a seat and that most certainly applies to Scott Rumana.

I am waiting for "I told you so" emails from longtime Rumana detractors who insisted that he only sought the Passaic County GOP Chairmanship for his own gain, to "give himself the line" and then wash his hands of party-building responsibilities.

But were they right? Is "the fix" in???

A lot of that depends on the conditions surrounding McNamara's decision to step down and how he might use his influence with the Bergen GOP County Committee to affect a successor, as well as the interest and ability of former District 36 Assemblyman and Majority Leader Paul DiGaetano to make the long-rumored move to the 40th District and get back into the Trenton game.

[note - the rules for residency are unclear and I don't know if it is already too late for a potential candidate to "carpetbag" - although the petition instructions state that a candidate must "satisfy the citizenship and residency requirements by election day" - any guidance on this would be appreciated, as this whole part of the post may be rendered inapplicable]

Unless things have changed since 2005, when DiGaetano and O'Toole landed on bad terms after O'Toole did not back hometown candidate DiGaetano (who lives in Nutley), this could be a race with bitter personal overtones should DiGaetano make the move. However, McNamara (who attended Rumana's recent wedding) has a chummier relationship with DiGaetano, and they definitely share one common ally - former Passaic County GOP Chairman and [...never mind] Peter Murphy (see how nice I am?), whom Rumana bluntly defeated by proxy in last year's Chairman race by a wide margin. No doubt that he's hungry for revenge, and smiting Rumana's Trentonian ambitions would be a delectable payback from his perspective.

Could we be looking at a messy primary in which an O'Toole-Russo-Rumana ticket gets the line in Passaic (40% of the GOP primary votes) and Essex (10%) counties - O'Toole doubles as Essex GOP Chair, and potentially in Bergen (the remaining 40%) versus a DiGaetano-name-name ticket running "off the line"? As we saw in 2005, when DiGaetano won "the line" in Bergen County and nonetheless finished a disappointing 4th in the Gubernatorial Primary, this has diminished somewhat as a determining factor. Although, that was a high-profile race with lots of money floating around thanks to ridiculous matching funds laws that bloated the campaign trésors of 7 GOP candidates; this time around, the turnout will be far lower and with municipal candidates sharing "the line" in key towns like Wayne, it will be tough to win in an "off-the-line" scenario. 4 weeks to recruit and file competing municipal slates is a tall order to fill.

And, might there be a Presidential overtone? DiGaetano has backed Rudy Giuliani, while O'Tools is with John McCain.

In any case, Scott Rumana must address the following factors:
  1. Communicate clearly and openly to the County Committee how he plans to recuse himself from the nomination process for the open Assembly seat in District 40 once he presents himself as a candidate.
  2. Establish a mechanism through which other contenders for the open Assembly seat may present their credentials for fair and timely consideration on "the line" in Passaic County.
  3. Pledge to resign as Mayor of Wayne once he assumes the Assembly office, should he ultimately emerge victorious, thus taking a stand against dual office-holding.
  4. Commit to finding candidates to fill ALL slots for his counterpart positions in Districts 34, 35, and 36. Rumana cannot shirk his responsibilities as Chairman, which most certainly includes fielding candidates in difficult districts, because he himself decided to become a candidate in a Republican-leaning one. (this is why County Chairs should not be office-holders or office-seekers, it presents too many conflicts of interest!)

Finally, there is the possibility of another ideologically conservative ticket forming in District 40, although perennial candidates Joe Tomanelli and John Ginty have been silent thus far.