Domenick DiCicco laughs robustly when asked whether he is related to veteran Philadelphia Councilman Frank DiCicco.
"I get asked that all the time," the political novice says, shaking his head no and taking a sip of coffee at a Gloucester County diner.
That's because the newly seated New Jersey assemblyman is not as well-known. But DiCicco's easy style and quick wit are apt to fix that.
"I'm nuts," he quips in answer to why he got into politics.
DiCicco and Gov. Christie share the distinction of being the only Republicans in at least a decade to capture government posts held by Democrats. That's no small feat in a state where registered Democrats have long outnumbered Republicans.
DiCicco, a moderate from Washington Township, is one of 33 Republicans in the 80-member Assembly. The Center City lawyer, who lifts weights and reads several books at a time, said his victory in November reflected voter discontent over high property taxes and runaway government spending.
Insisting he's "no wallflower," he said he intended to speak out and support Christie's efforts to "fix the state."
Officially, DiCicco, who turned 47 yesterday, begins his work in Trenton today when he attends a budget committee hearing.
DiCicco and incumbent Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, a Democrat, represent the Fourth District, which covers parts of Gloucester and Camden Counties. Both counties are Democratic strongholds.
The two men are the only Assembly members to split a district's party ticket, and they plan to maintain separate offices in Washington Township.
DiCicco and Moriarty traded barbs during the campaign, one of the most-watched in the state. But DiCicco said the two shook hands during the swearing in last week, and he hopes to work cordially with Moriarty so they can accomplish state business.
Moriarty seconded the sentiment.
"I'll work with anyone committed to moving the state forward," he said. "I don't care what side they're on." But aside from shaking hands, the two haven't spoken since the campaign.
The assemblymen's wives were friends about 10 years ago when their children were Brownies, both men said, and DiCicco once donated $250 to one of Moriarty's campaigns.
DiCicco trailed Moriarty by about 600 votes in the Assembly race. He won the seat vacated by Sandra Love of Laurel Springs when she decided against seeking another term.
Alex DeCroce, leader of the Assembly Republicans, credited DiCicco's success to his hard work during the campaign.
"He made a strong point of wanting to get involved to get the state going again," DeCroce said, saying DiCicco's background would be an asset in attracting business back to the state.
DiCicco was named executive vice president and general counsel at Alexander Gallo Holdings, a national court reporting and litigation support services company. Last year, he was chief legal officer of insurance company Zurich North America's claims operation. He got his law degree at Delaware Law School, now named Widener, and earned a master's in business administration from Pennsylvania State University.
At the Whitman Diner in Turnersville, DiCicco seemed relaxed, and answered questions without hesitation about his private and public life.
His wife, Joan, teaches at St. Mary's School in Williamstown, and they have three children: Domenick III, 18; Cristina, 15; and Sophia, 7. The youngest, DiCicco said chuckling, was so thrilled he was running that she picked out what she called a "candidate's dress" to wear to one of the functions.
DiCicco belongs to the Sons of Italy and supports the organization's objections to what it says is a biased portrayal of Italian Americans on MTV's hit show Jersey Shore.
DiCicco also works as solicitor of the Deptford Fire Company, where Mike White, fire commission chairman, called him "a dedicated, down-to-earth guy who tries to save us money and lead us down the right path."
DiCicco had not sought public office before, and called himself an independent who voted mostly Republican, though he supported Bill Clinton for president.
He was excited when Democrat Jon Corzine was elected governor in 2005, he said, because of the Wall Street executive's reputation for business acumen. But DiCicco became disenchanted when, he said, Corzine failed to use fiscal restraint.
When he learned Christie was running for governor, he volunteered to help, then got drafted as a candidate. "First I said no, but later said, 'Well, I'll give it a shot,' " DiCicco said.
He called himself an idealist who believes reform is possible.
"But if two years from now I see the same-old, I'd seriously consider not running again," he said.