The gloves are off in the battle to be the GOP nominee to replace the late State Sen. Gerald Cardinale in the 39th Legislative District.
Assembly colleagues Robert Auth and Holly Schepisi traded barbs last week after Auth announced his intentions to remain in the race after a deal to back Schepisi for the seat fell through.
UPDATE March 10 7:15 A.M.: Schepisi won March 9’s special election for the remainder of late state Sen. Gerald Cardinale’s term over Auth by eight votes, a 111-103 margin. The Bergen County Republican Organization will hold a contest in the near future to fill out the remainder of Schepisi’s Assembly term.
In an email from Auth to the Bergen County Republican Organization (BRCO), he wrote “I will not be forced out of this race under the pretense of unity. I am in this race to win—100%. I am fully committed to winning and being your next State Senator.”
Auth then knocked his former running mate as not being actively engaged with local Republicans.
Auth Stays In
“Assemblywoman Schepisi never goes to county committee meetings, never goes to town council meetings and never campaigns for fellow Republicans,” Auth said. “It’s all about Holly. You know me: I will be the Senator who is in the trenches: knocking on doors, shaking hands at train stations, formulating the messages and ideas that make us the GOP, and helping the people of the 39th District.”
Auth announced his intention to run for the seat himself on March 1, with the backing of the Cardinale family. But a couple of days later is where everything went awry.
Not in dispute is a meeting with Auth, Schepisi and BRCO Chairman Jack Zisa to work out an arrangement for a united ticket March 3. What happened in the 48 hours afterwards has led to both sides blaming the other for the split of the proposed ticket .
Unity Deal Denied
At that meeting, all agreed a deal was discussed to have Schepisi, who announced her intention to run for the seat in January, being elected to serve out the rest of Cardinale’s term after passing away in February and be the party’s nominee in the November elections at the BRCO Convention for March 9. Auth was to remain in the Assembly and both would run on the Bergen County line together.
A press release and Auth himself stated the next morning that he was withdrawing from the State Senate race and would run for re-election for a fifth term in the Assembly on the organization line. But he changed his position later that evening and re-entered the Senate race.
The decision to remain in the race resulted in a series of accusations between Auth and Schepi about what happened at the meeting, who gives the party the best chance to win and the character of each candidate.
Rush to Decide
“I never called for a meeting with Holly, Jack and the Schepisi campaign team. They called me to offer a deal. I said no,” Auth said to the New Jersey Globe. “Unity was very far from Assemblywoman Schepisi’s mind when she decided to primary the late Senator Gerald Cardinale, and put us in the unenviable position of having to choose sides.”
Auth charged that Schepisi’s supporters put forward a unity deal to give the Assemblywoman “an unobstructed path to power and the BCRO Convention. No agreement was made in the meeting.”
The Assemblyman claimed he left the meeting with the understanding that he would discuss the decision with his family about his final decision. But the “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.”
Schepisi “Shocked, Stunned”
For her part, Schepisi said she was stunned and shocked that Auth decided to remain in the race. She stated the two parties had agreed on a rollout for a unity ticket and that Auth staff members were on board.
“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,” Schepisi told Insider NJ. “I spoke to others who confirmed the same thing.”
“I was at a meeting (when) I get a phone call asking for my statement on Bob reneging on the deal,” said the Assemblywoman. “I almost fell out of my chair and said ‘what are you talking about?’”
For Schepisi, the waffling back and forth should disqualify Auth as the Republician candidate in the 39th District.
“It shows such a lack of leadership,” she stated “It shows such a lack of honesty. It shows a lack of ability to make a decision. He put out this negative letter claiming that he had been pressured and it was some sort of ambush. (That is) the furthest thing from the truth.”
Schepisi, who has already won the backing of the Passaic County line in the district, believes its a simple case of math that will be the deciding factor for Republicans.
“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,” said Schepisi. “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.”
Auth in his email stated 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,” he stated.