Who wants John Amodeo out of the state Assembly?
Is it the Democrats, who would prefer to have an open seat in the 2nd Legislative District to run against this election year?
Is it Amodeo himself, a semiretired crane operator, who would see a considerable pay boost if he became head of the South Jersey Transportation Authority, as some rumors have suggested?
Or is it a couple of ambitious local Republicans who would like to get the 62-year-old Republican legislator out of their way in order to rustle up party support for their own candidacies?
Whoever has their eyes on Amodeo’s seat has continued to circulate a persistent rumor that he may be picked as the new executive director of the SJTA, which oversees the Atlantic City Expressway and Atlantic City International Airport, among other things. Those rumors have so far proved unfounded.
Democrats top the list of those who would like him gone.
The former Linwood City Councilman has proved a relatively popular legislator. The last time he was on the ballot, his 25,330-vote total in 2011 was the eighth highest among 176 Assembly candidates across the state. That came in one of the most competitive districts in the state, with spending records made and broken in the recent election.
Should he run again this year, Amodeo would seek re-election on a Republican ticket headed by Gov. Chris Christie, riding a surge of post-Hurricane Sandy popularity.
Republicans believe that freshman Atlantic County Freeholder Colin G. Bell, 31, will be one of the Democratic Assembly candidates, following his swearing-in earlier this month by state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland.
Bell, an attorney with Hankin, Sandman & Palladino, has not announced a candidacy. Speaking hypothetically Friday, Bell said it would always be easier to run for an open seat, rather than take on an established incumbent. But he said he believed Republicans were creating the rumors.
Other Democrats, including state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said Republicans essentially control the entire process.
Whelan pointed out that the SJTA executive director is a direct appointment by Christie. Direct appointments are generally those of lesser importance, and do not require the Senate’s formal advice and consent. This limits Democrats’ ability to influence the nomination.
“If it was John, I wouldn’t have a problem with (the appointment),” Whelan added, citing their “good relationship.”
State law would give Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis wide latitude in finding a replacement assemblyman, who would hold the seat until after the November election.
Davis said little: “I don’t comment on rumors, and I don’t engage in hypotheticals.”
Amodeo initially told The Press of Atlantic City in August that he was not in the running for the job. He repeated that last week, saying Thursday that he and fellow Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown were gearing up for their re-election campaign, with a formal announcement expected in the coming weeks.
“I have never thought of not running again,” Amodeo said. “I really look forward to this year with Gov. Christie on the ticket, and I think it’s going to be a good re-election year for Republicans.”
But, he added, should he be picked for the SJTA, he would do the job well. He cited his 37 years of construction work, including his most recent 15 years, where he focused on projects such as the Ocean City-Longport Bridge and the Cooper River bridge in Camden.
“I would welcome the position,” Amodeo said. “I would have to think about it, but I have never been offered it, so honesty I don’t know what they’re talking about.”
The SJTA’s current acting Executive Director, Sam Donelson, was paid $129,524 in 2012, according to state records. His predecessor, Executive Director Bart Meuller, received $156,133. Mueller accepted a position in June with U.S. Facilities Inc., a Philadelphia-based facilities management and infrastructure support company.
Public records indicate Amodeo’s household income in 2011, by comparison, totaled between just more than $134,000 and just less $185,000.
He receives $49,000 for his service in the Legislature. On his most recent state financial disclosure form, he reported income between $10,000 and $25,000 from both Doran Engineering and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 Pension Fund in 2011.
On that form, Amodeo additionally reported dividends of less than $10,000 from two sources and between $10,000 and $25,000 from a third. Three additional sources of investment income totaled less than $10,000 apiece.
His wife, Luann P. Amodeo, also received $55,000 from the Margate Board of Education in 2011, state records show. She is a school librarian.
Amodeo is not the only one who said he thought that he would do a capable job overseeing the $87.3 million, several-hundred-employee authority.
“I think he would be a great choice,” said Vince Polistina, a private municipal engineer for several area towns. Polistina, a Republican, served two terms in the Assembly with Amodeo before an unsuccessful bid for Senate in 2011.
Polistina said Amodeo has ample experience with Christie and the state Legislature. He said he believed Amodeo would do an excellent job with the future development of the SJTA as well as handle the coordination needed between the SJTA, Atlantic City Alliance and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
Should Amodeo take the job, Polistina would be an obvious replacement in the Assembly, and he said he would gladly go back to Trenton.
“It’s something I would consider, should an opening become available,” Polistina said, citing his Trenton experience, knowledge and relationships.
Other Republicans are also eyeing Amodeo’s seat. Two people have even called him to express interest in it.
“People asked me, time and time again, ‘You going?’” Amodeo said. “I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘When you leave, I’m going to run for your seat.’”
Ultimately, however, the SJTA job may not wind up with him.
Amodeo said he and Davis have submitted names of prospective candidates to the Governor’s Office. He declined to identify them.
Last week, Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough attended Christie’s State of the State speech and met with Christie’s staff to discuss appointments. Other names were floated, whom he also declined to identify.
All but one.
“I raised the question about John Amodeo, and I didn’t get any kind of positive answer,” said McCullough, who also lamented the lack of Egg Harbor Township representation on the SJTA. “I raised the issue, and I didn’t get any positive feedback. So, for right now, it’s a rumor.”
Contact Derek Harper:
Follow @dnharper on Twitter