Thursday in Trenton, an assemblyman moved up to the state Senate, sworn in to fill the seat his father held for more than 20 years until dying five weeks ago.

In 12 days, the new senator will be on the ballot to get his old Assembly job back – though doesn’t intend to take it, if he wins.

The late state Sen. Anthony R. Bucco died after the candidate filing deadline, and his son wasn’t selected as the Senate candidate until after vote-by-mail ballots were sent, so it would have cost Morris County Republicans tens of thousands of dollars to change candidates.

And so new state Sen. Anthony M. Bucco, R-Morris, will be a candidate for Assembly but decline the seat if he wins. A convention of Republican Party officials would meet in January to select a temporary appointee who would serve until a 2020 special election in which Bucco will also have to run for his Senate seat.

Bucco said he entered the Senate chamber Thursday “with mixed emotions.”

“Anyone that knew my dad knew that he loved being a senator. And I recognize that I have big shoes to fill,” Bucco said. “And while today is not quite as happy as it was 20 years ago, and the smiles aren’t quite as bright, the issues are still just as important, if not more.”

“It’s an honor to follow in my father’s footsteps,” he said. “I wish he was here to see it. But I look forward to serving as the senator in the 25th Legislative District.”

Although the Senate won’t be voting on any legislation or holding committee hearings until after the election, Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, scheduled the swearing-in ceremony for Thursday.

“I probably could have sworn him in at any time. I worked out the time with him,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney said the swearing-in wouldn’t have any effect on the election in the 25th District because the voters are aware he had been selected for the Senate seat.

“They already know he’s a senator. He got picked. You know, they picked him,” Sweeney said. “It’s awkward timing, but he received the nomination from the Morris County Republicans, he accepted it, and we swore him in.”

Sweeney wouldn’t criticize Bucco for accepting the Senate seat while a candidate for Assembly.

“How can I? It’s his decision, and it’s his right to take the seat,” he said. “Hey, listen, his father was a wonderful person that we all loved and really respected. His son made the decision and made the decision that was his to make. Doesn’t matter whether Democrat or Republican, to be honest with you.”

Democrats in the 25th District were less circumspect. Daniel Fleiss, the campaign manager for Assembly candidates Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger, called Bucco a “fake candidate.”

“Anthony Bucco’s first act as senator should be to finally be honest with voters about what his fake candidacy for Assembly really is: a partisan power grab to bypass the will of the people and install whichever hand-picked party insider he chooses into public office,” Fleiss said. “It’s exactly the self-serving Trenton politics that voters are fed up with.”

Bucco said the process “is what it is” for either political party.

"Somebody asked me the other day what is it like having to run for office in this condition and it's horrible. It's absolutely horrible. This is a position I wouldn't wish on anyone,” Bucco said.

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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