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Candidates: Legislative District 40

Michael Daigle | November 5, 2011

The Republican incumbents are heavily favored in the race for North Jersey’s 40th District, but the presence in the race of at least one of the Democrats has made it interesting.

Challenger William Brennan, seeking one of the Assembly seats, is something of a nemesis to Assemblyman Scott Rumana. Brennan has in recent years filed numerous complaints against officials, with Rumana being one target.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Ethical Standards recently dismissed the complaint, which centered on Rumana’s joint roles as mayor of Wayne and president of a co-generation and solar energy company created to build an energy project and sell electricity to the township.

Rumana’s concern over further potential legal action by Brennan, a retired Teaneck firefighter, might also have played a role in the cancellation of the League of Women Voters debate for the district, which spreads across portions of Bergen, Essex, Morris and Passaic counties. Although the Republicans said they had scheduling conflicts, Rumana said he was concerned that Brennan might sue them.

After Brennan charged the Republicans didn't want to debate, both sides agreed to appear at a forum on Oct. 30 sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Rumana and running mate David Russo are facing Brennan and Cassandra Lazzara for Assembly. In the race for the Senate, incumbent Republican Kevin O'Toole is facing a challenge from Democrat John Zunic, a repeat of the 2007 contest that O’Toole won handily.

O’Toole served in the Assembly from 1995 to 2001, sponsoring laws that reformed the state welfare system and strengthened domestic violence and anti-discrimination statutes.

Zunic has served as deputy mayor of Cedar Grove and has been the municipal prosecutor in Fairview. He has favored ensuring all residents have access to healthcare, called for a stronger long-term care option through Medicaid, and supported a 1-cent income tax increase to reduce property taxes.

Rumana has been in the Assembly since 2008 and has filed legislation to combat bullying in schools. He has also been a proponent of the Republican plan to dismantle the state’s affordable housing rules as enforced by the Council on Affordable Housing, particularly laws calling for collection of fees from developers to support local affordable housing trust funds.

Russo has served in the Assembly since 1990. He has sponsored legislation that would stop county political committees from donating funds to other county political organizations, a practice known as “wheeling.” He also voted against the 2011-2012 state budget and against a review of rules that could place restrictions on the natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

Lazzara is a middle school science teacher and the daughter of former Passaic County Freeholder Joseph Lazzara. She worked with school officials in her district to address the budget repercussions of Gov. Chris Christie’s state aid cuts, and she has generally opposed the approach the governor and the Republicans have taken toward public education.

In recent redistricting, the 40th shed some towns at its northern and eastern end, settling into an area at the edge of the northern Passaic River Valley. The district had 44,620 registered Republicans, 32,706 registered Democrats, and 64,445 unaffiliated voters for the June primary.

Michael Daigle is a freelance writer and journalist from Phillipsburg. He has worked for newspapers in Massachusetts, Maine, and for the past 20 years, in New Jersey. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting on housing policy, politics, environmental issues and as a columnist.

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