Destined to Draw a Crowd: Bucco in Morris Among Mounted Heads

Senator Tony Bucco

MOUNT ARLINGTON – It could have been unnerving for some to see a stuffed giraffe head “peering” down at them while they pulled apart a lobster, but for most of the 300 or so people at Pub 199 Wednesday night, it was just another fundraiser for Tony Bucco, the senator, not the assemblyman.

As one of the senior Republicans in Trenton, a Bucco event is destined to draw a crowd. And this one was no exception. Billed as a lobsterfest, supporters also had the option of ordering a T-bone steak as well as a shrimp cocktail. That’s pretty good fare for a political event.

The eclectic crowd included tables of attorneys, lobbyists of various stripes, an association of outdoorsmen and the New Jersey Education Association, a group normally aligned with Democrats. One of the educators paid the perfunctory lip service to bipartisanship, but also explained that the senator “listens.”  He said the union and the Republican may not always agree, but they at least can have a dialogue.

The scene.

A word is needed to describe the scene. Pub 199 is an iconic structure on Howard Boulevard that features literally dozens of animal heads on the walls and elsewhere. You have many types of deer, but also non-native to New Jersey species like rhinos (the beast, not the political kind) and the aforementioned giraffe. This surely is not the place for a PETA confab. The pub burned down a few years ago, but was rebuilt with the many animal heads reappearing.

Bucco is now 80 years-old, so a legitimate question is, will he run again when his term is up in two years?

He laughed at the inquiry and said, “Who knows what’s going to happen in two years? Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow?”

But he did say that of the number of political jobs he has had, senator is up there with mayor (of Boonton) as being the most satisfying. Bucco also has been an alderman, freeholder and assemblyman.
“I still think we’re doing the job our constituents want,” he said. That includes not only representation in Trenton, but constituent service.

There’s a lot of time to speculate about 2021, but how about  2019?

Assemblyman Bucco is seeking reelection in District 25, but the other seat is being vacated by Michael Patrick Carroll, who wants to be county surrogate. Open legislative seats generally draw a crowd, but so far, the only announced candidate is Brian Bergen, a Denville councilman. That may change – and soon.
John Barbarula, an attorney from Randolph, was maneuvering amid the tables with a petition in hand. Barbarula said he’s contemplating an Assembly run. because as he put it,, “I want to retire in New Jersey.” And to make that more feasible for many, Barbarula said the state has to become less expensive.
This is hardly a novel observation, but Barbarula says he may want a crack at righting things. For example, he said that if the Legislature moves to spend $25 million on something new, it should cut $25 million somewhere else.

Bucco the assemblyman said he doesn’t know if he will team up with another candidate, saying, “It may be beneficial to run on my own.”

The stakes are high. Republicans know that Democrats came alarmingly close to winning the district two years ago and that the party already has its candidates – Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger.

Bucco said he hopes a more competitive Democratic challenge will increase the GOP’s fundraising and interest in what is normally a very low-turnout election. The county party, however, remains split dating back to last year’s race for chairman. Ron DeFilippis is the chair, but the man he beat, Rob Zwigard, now heads a county GOP Victory PAC that is distinct from the county organization.

Bucco backed Zwigard, but he said that after last year’s party convention, he expressed support for DeFilippis in the name of unity.

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