Just when you thought it was over. When Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi said the race had been “wild” in an InsiderNJ interview less than 24 hours from the time of this writing, the LD39 soap opera made another dramatic turn. In the space of time between Insider NJ’s last publication on Holly Schepisi and Robert Auth releasing a statement of unity, where Schepisi would run for state senate and Auth continue for assembly, things changed. She learned through another press source that Auth had—apparently—done a one-eighty and was going to pursue the senate seat after all.
In a word, betrayal.
An email from Robert Auth to the county committee dated March 5 said, “I will not be forced out of this race under the pretense of unity. I am in this race to win – 100 percent. I send this communication to let you know I am fully committed to winning and being your next State Senator.”
Auth charged that “Schepisi’s supporters” put forward a “unity” deal on March 3 “to stop me from running in the BCRO Convention on March 9th. Unity means one thing to Assemblywoman Schepisi: an unobstructed path to power and the BCRO Convention. No agreement was made in the meeting.”
Auth attacked his fellow assembly member, saying, “Assemblywoman Schepisi never goes to county committee meetings, never goes to town council meetings and never campaigns for fellow Republicans. It’s all about Holly.” He closed saying that he would not be pressured and was the best candidate.
Committeeman Alex Cucciniello responded to the email by slamming the assemblyman. “This email you have sent various county committee members is extremely inaccurate, misleading and disgraceful.” The committeeman concluded his message, “We need unity, truthfulness and competence representing us in Trenton. Not the nonsense & games we see from individuals like Assemblyman Auth.”
The more the infighting on the Republican side continues, the more damage is done headed into election season. It’s “bad optics” to use an industry term. It does not bode well for a campaign to release a statement of unity and then immediately see a refutation of said statement and more bickering.
As for the appeal and perceived strength of Auth versus Schepisi, a municipal chairman said, “They haven’t made a bench far back enough for this guy.”
In Dante Alighieri’s “The Inferno,” he describes a series of levels in hell with varying degrees of horrible punishment for varying types of sins. In the lowest circle—the ninth—the realm is a dark and frozen pit of ice. Within this, the Italian poet describes the second level as the Antenora: dedicated specifically for those who betrayed their benefactors or parties. Dante took the time to mention some political figures who had earned his ire and gave himself the last word on their eternal fate.
This is not to say that Assemblyman Robert Auth will be frozen in the ice and buffeted forever by frigid torrents kicked up by Satan’s wings—but if you are part of the seemingly blindsided Republican establishment, you might be a little inclined to pick up the book and grind your teeth.
“I was stunned. It was shocking,” Schepisi told Insider NJ. “In politics, the only thing you really have is your word. Yesterday morning we had confirmed with multiple people that he was going to run for re-election for Assembly and support me for State Senate. I had agreed because I can raise more money for the ticket, I would financially support the ticket in a greater fashion, we would all work together. I personally reached out to him yesterday morning and sent him a text message to confirm everything. I said we should pick a day to get a drink and start afresh. I spoke to his chief of staff who said congratulations and said this was in the best interests of everybody, we’re all happy it’s been resolved. I spoke to others who confirmed the same thing.”
The move by Auth came as an unwelcome surprise to Schepisi. “I sent him a press release that we were jointly going to put out at 5 o’clock tonight and sent everything to him, sent him a text that the press release was coming, and an email asking what he thought. We got no response whatsoever from him. He called the chairman and said he was going to send his letter withdrawing his senate candidacy. Then I see this breaking alert on my phone and candidly I was shocked. We had agreed that strategically we wouldn’t have made an announcement until today, but at that point it was OK, I guess Bob decided to rip off his band aid and tell the press.”
While Auth expressed his views on Schepisi’s run in his email as a campaign message oriented around money and herself. For Schepisi, her assembly partner’s move was “surreal.”
“It’s unbecoming of a sitting assemblyman and someone seeking to lead our party that he is playing out all of the intra-party stuff—agreements and things that we’re doing—in the press.” Schepisi said that attempts to reach Auth about the statement of unity were met with silence.
Schepisi’s story is at odds with Auth’s email when he said, “I explained, ‘I need to talk to the Boss, my dear wife Elsa.’ Before I could communicate any reply, the Schepisi Campaign team sent a press release claiming I dropped out of the race. This offensive move was an orchestrated effort to corner me.”
“We waited for him to get back to us and as is the norm for him, no response,” Schepisi said to Insider NJ. “Here we had his own staff saying it was good. We sent it out and everybody was saying congratulations, people were happy, there wasn’t a single person I spoke to who was upset about it…. I was at a meeting last night about ten to six and I get a phone call asking for my statement on Bob reneging on the deal. I almost fell out of my chair and said ‘what are you talking about?’”
According to Schepisi, when she and Auth had met with Bergen County Chairman Jack Zisa to work out their arrangement as a united ticket, a former state GOP chairman who was not specifically named had been involved in the discussions with Auth. “I reached out to this person, I asked what is going on. He said ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about’.” She said when the former state chairman did speak with Auth, the response from the latter was that he had changed his mind.
“It shows such a lack of leadership,” Schepisi said. “It shows such a lack of honesty. It shows a lack of ability to make a decision. He put out this negative letter today claiming that he had been pressured and it was some sort of ambush. The furthest thing from the truth. The chairman had asked both of us to sit down. Assemblyman Auth asked if he could bring someone, I was told if I wanted to bring someone, I could, so I brought a long-time friend and ally of Senator Cardinale’s.”
As to Auth’s allegations that he had been pressured, Schepisi denied it outright. “No one pressured Bob. It was an open conversation about what both of our intentions were, what was best for the party, where we stood on county commitments to endorsements to money raised, factual stuff.”
In Auth’s email, he said, “I will give every ounce of energy to lead us to victory now and in November. While money is often the fuel to help power our communication efforts, it’s about way more than money. Money doesn’t buy genuine concern for the issues people are facing, face-to-face campaigning, and building the bonds of trust between politicians and the public. And money doesn’t buy me.”
Money may not buy Auth, but, according to Schepisi, his campaign situation is grim. “I have $125,000 sitting in my account with another $50,000 coming this week and Bob has negative $24,000 in debt in his campaign account. We talked about towns where I had 100% commitment of their county committee members, mayors and public officials who are backing and supporting me, we spoke about our capacity to raise money and lead a ticket. [The meeting] was just very factual.”
Schepisi went further, saying that at their meeting, “He put forth essentially what he wanted from us in the event that he were to continue in the assembly. The entire proposal put forward was his own plan. He said he had a lot to think about and he needed to get back to us in the morning. He didn’t call the chairman, didn’t call the former state chairman who he had promised that it was all worked out to. He didn’t even respond to my text message, email, or office call, nothing. In politics you see a lot of strange things and strange behavior, but you also need to be trusted.”
Schepisi said that had Auth said he wanted to take his chances and continue his senate campaign, then she would have accepted his decision. “I would’ve respected that, I would’ve respected him, no harm no foul: we each move forward and may the best candidate prevail. But to behave in this sort of fashion makes him untrustworthy.”