By MICHAEL DEAK
Courier News STAFF WRITER
In the wake of Rep. Michael Ferguson’s announcement this week that he will not seek a fifth term, two candidates already have jumped into the race for the Republican nomination.
Chris Venis, former deputy mayor in Hillsborough and a lobbyist, and Matthew Smith, a Scotch Plains resident who is president of the medical staff at JFK Hospital in Edison, have announced their candidacies.
State Sen. Thomas Kean Jr., Assemblyman Jon Bramnick and former Rep. Bob Franks have announced they will not be seeking the 7th District seat.
Among the possible candidates are state Sen. Leonard Lance, R-Clinton Township, Assemblyman Pete Biondi, R-Hillsborough, Somerset County Freeholder Jack Ciatarelli, Warren Township Committeeman Victor Sordillo, Bedminster Township Committeeman Finn Caspersen and Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks.
Assemblywoman Linda Stender, D-Fanwood, is expected to be unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Stender lost to Ferguson in 2006 by one percentage point.
Venis, 42, who served one term on the Hillsborough Township Committee, has his own public affairs and lobbying firm, The Venis Group, with offices in Trenton and Washington.
He previously served as chief of staff for the New Jersey Department of Corrections; vice president of William McClintock Associates, a Scotch Plains-based political consulting firm; manager for the congressional campaign for Bob Franks; and the New Jersey-Delaware campaign director for Steve Forbes’ 2000 presidential bid.
Venis also has been active in the thoroughbred industry for nearly 30 years and is the president and founder of Capitol Hill Thoroughbreds based in Hillsborough.
“Many people seek public office for various reasons. Some like the prestige, some are bored millionaires and others actually feel they can make a difference,” Venis said in a statement. “Mine is quite simple — to ensure that our children and families have the best opportunity to prosper and live safe, healthy lives.”
Venis also cited his experience in Washington as an asset.
“Over the years, I’ve had tremendous experience in Washington, appearing at committee meetings, sitting in during voting sessions and, most importantly, understanding Congress and the process,” Venis said. “This is reality, not some game for political beginners, billionaire heirs and kids of prominent politicians to decide what they do when they grow up.”
Venis, who worked with Lance on a previous run for Congress, indicated he would be waiting for him to make a decision whether to join the race.
“Leonard and I would have to sit down and discuss it,” he said.
Hunterdon County Freeholder Matthew Holt, who also had been mentioned as possible candidate, said Thursday that Republicans in the Seventh District should rally around a single candidate, Lance.
“I will urge Sen. Lance to run for this Congressional seat and will support his candidacy unconditionally,” Holt said.
However, Holt kept the door open for his own candidacy.
“Should Sen. Lance decide not to run, and to remain in service in Trenton, I would welcome the opportunity to be considered as the Republican candidate for this congressional seat,” Holt said.
Smith, 55, a native of Central Jersey, has been practicing medicine for 24 years. He has been president of the medical staff at JFK Hospital in Edison for three years and is responsible for overseeing and implementing policy at the hospital.
Board certified in internal medicine and pulmonary medicine, he is a graduate of Haverford College and the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. He served as vice chairman of the Judicial and Medical Ethics Committee of the Middlesex County Medical Society for 10 years.
He and his wife, Rhonda, have two children in college, Steven and Jared, who is serving as his father’s acting campaign manager.
In a statement this week, Smith said he will campaign on a platform to make President Bush’s tax cuts permanent, “fix the broken health-care system,” protect the environment and make sure the mercury stored at the federal General Services Administration depot on Route 206 in Hillsborough is removed.
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