By Philip Sean Curran
Wall Township committeeman Dominick DiRocco, a former top aide to Gov. Chris Christie, is running for Monmouth County freeholder with the support of leading county Republicans.
“I think that Monmouth County is one of the most well-run counties in the state,” he said.
DiRocco will seek to join the five-member board by winning the seat of freeholder Gerry P. Scharfenberger, who is running for state Assembly this year. The first step for DiRocco will be to get the backing of Republican county committee members at their nominating convention March 9.
“I would love to run with Nick,” said freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone, a Republican who is running for re-election. “I think he’d be a great candidate but, more importantly, a good asset to Monmouth County. And that’s what’s most important.”
DiRocco has been a township committeeman in Wall since 2014, according to his biography on the municipal website. He also sat on the municipal planning board. “I love serving in local government because it’s an opportunity to really have a positive impact on the quality of life for your neighborhood and your family and your community,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to have an opportunity to serve in a lot of different capacities. And I’ve enjoyed each and ever y one of those markers along the way.”
DiRocco worked in the Christie administration, first as senior counsel to the governor, then as his deputy chief of staff. He also was counsel to U.S. Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-N.J.) from June 2013 to November 2013.
“He’s got good experience,” Scharfenberger said. “I think he’s exactly what we need. He’s from a section of the county that’s a little bit different from the other freeholders, which is always what you want. I think he’d be a tremendous fit.”
Besides being all Republican, the freeholder board is made up of members who had served as mayors of their respective communities. DiRocco would fit that bill, having been the mayor of Wall in 2017.
“We understand what the municipalities are going through on a day-to-day basis and we can contribute to their success just based on having been there,” said freeholder Susan M. Kiley. “And Nick’s in the same boat. So we’ll keep our streak going.”
As for their potential challengers in November, Democrats have extended the time for candidates to be involved in their convention, scheduled for March 16, said David Brown, party chairman.
DiRocco, 44, is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Seton Hall University School of Law. He serves as the director of government relations at South Jersey Industries, and is married with three daughters.
As for the man he would be running with, Arnone is seeking his fourth term as a freeholder.
“I feel like I want to continue all the good work that we’ve been doing,” Arnone said. “We work hard. I take pride that I work with all 53 towns, Democrat and Republican, and everybody knows that.”
Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden, who could not be reached for comment, also is running for re-election.
Scharfenberger, meanwhile, will run for state Assembly along with Republican assemblywoman Serena DiMaso in the 13th Legislative District spanning parts of Monmouth County. He is seeking to replace Republican assemblywoman Amy H. Handlin, who is retiring at the end of her term.
“It’s a critical time in New Jersey’s history where the state is so unaffordable and it’s driving people out at all levels,” he said. “I think we need people in the Legislature with different ideas than have been proposed in the past and a different mindset.”
In the 11th Legislative District, assemblyman Eric Houghtaling is running for re-election along with fellow Democrat Joann Downey.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Houghtaling said. “Hopefully what we are doing is what people of the 11th District want.”
Republican Matt Woolley announced last week that he would be running against them in November. But so far, the name of his running mate has not been revealed.
All 80 seats in the Assembly will be up for grabs this fall, a midterm election in the second year of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration. At the moment, Democrats hold a 54-26 majority in the lower house of the Legislature.
Being in the majority means Democrats will have an easier time raising money, said Benjamin Dworkin, the director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship.
They also lead in registered voters, with 2.2 million Democrats compared to nearly 1.3 million Republicans, according to statistics at the state Division of Elections. There are 2.3 million unaffiliated voters.
“There are a lot more registered Democrats than registered Republicans in New Jersey right now,” he said. “And in a partisan political environment, that helps the Democrats.”
In the 11th District, there are 47,973 registered Democrats to 33,975 Republicans. In the 13th, the math favors Republicans, who lead 46,244 to 43,882.
Democrats have made inroads in once traditionally Republican parts of the state, having last year won countywide seats in Somerset County and gained control of Burlington County government. But he said Monmouth and Ocean counties “continue to be among the strongest Republican areas of the state.”
Dworkin said that with the Assembly races at the top of the ticket, voter turnout is expected to be low, possibly around only 24 percent of registered voters.
“And what that means is that a small but organized and motivated group of voters can have a disparate impact on the outcome of the election,” he said. “So Democrats have to worry. Despite all the things that are in their favor, they have to worry because so few people show up that an organized group who want to vote Republican can have a bigger impact this year than in almost any other time.”
This article was first published in the March 7-March 13, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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