Walter Kavanaugh

At the end of the year, Walter Kavanaugh will have spent 32 years in the New Jersey Legislature — a considerable career, but not necessarily the one he was hoping for. The former Air Force helicopter pilot first ran for office in 1963, winning a seat on the Somerville Board of Education. When Republican Victor Rizzolo announced that he would not seek re-election to the State Assembly in 1975, the 32-year-old Kavanaugh became the Somerset GOP organization candidate for the Assembly. He won his first general election with ease, finishing ahead of four-term incumbent John Ewing in his race against Democrats Edward Brady and Peter Dowling. He never had a tough race; even when Democrat Timothy Carden ran an aggressive campaign that put him within 3,000 votes of winning, Kavanaugh still won by more than 10,000. During his second year in Trenton, Kavanaugh won an Assembly leadership post. The slot became available when Thomas Kean resigned as Minority Leader to concentrate on his campaign for Governor In those days, leadership was rotated every two years, putting Kavanaugh in line to become Republican leader, or Speaker, if his party won control. After just a few years, Kavanaugh’s career began to slow down. An early supporter of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential bid, Kavanaugh actually sought appointment as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, though he was never seriously considered. In 1982, when Millicent Fenwick decided to to give up her fifth district House seat to run for the U.S. Senate, Kavanaugh decided to run for Congress. But when New Jersey lost a House seat after the census, mapmakers eliminated Fenwick’s district, effectively ending Kavanaugh’s congressional aspirations. After the 1983 legislative elections, a group of Republican Assemblymen led by Chuck Hardwick ran a slate of candidates against most of the incumbent GOP leadership; Kavanaugh was defeated, along with Marie Muhler, Anthony “Doc” Villane, and Karl Weidel. Hardwick, who leapfrogged over Kavanaugh, became Minority Leader after Dean Gallo went to Congress in 1984, became Speaker after the Republicans won control of the Assembly in 1985 — Kavanaugh, for at least a few hours, had been a candidate for Speaker. Kavanaugh remained in the Assembly until 1997, waiting for octogenerian Ewing (who went to the Senate in 1977) to finally retire from the Senate. For extreme junkies: while attending Notre Dame University (which loses both their Senators with the retirement of Bill Gormley), Kavanaugh worked the carnival circuit, guessing weights and ages. He still has the skills to do that job. More for extreme junkies: Victor Rizzolo first ran for office at age 21 in 1944, just a few months after his discharge from the U.S. Army during World War II — he was the Republican candidate for Hudson County Freeholder. After going to law school, he lost three more races — bids for municipal office in Kearny in 1955, 1956 and 1957 — and then served as an Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor. Rizzolo then moved to Somerset County, where he became a Municipal Court Judge in Hillsborough, Millstone and Readington, and then a Somerset County Court Judge. After Fenwick resigned her Assembly seat in 1972 to become state Consumer Affairs Director, Rizzolo won a January 1973 special election to fill her seat. He defeated Michael Imbriani, the former Somerset County Prosecutor. Rizzolo won comfortably in November 1973 (Ewing won his fourth term over Imbriani by just 447 votes), and retired in 1975. He resides in Somerville. Imbriani was later named to serve as a Superior Court Judge, and served until 1995, when he pleaded guilty to stealing $173,000 from his partners in a real estate development venture. He was placed on probation for five years. At a meeting of the State House Commission in 1998, chaired by Kavanaugh, Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto sought to protect Imbriani’s pension. Assemblyman Leonard Lance, a member of the commission, attempted a compromise that would have reduced the pension, but it was defeated by a 3-2 vote, with representatives of Governor Christine Todd Whitman siding with Impreveduto. A second Democratic commission member, Senator John Lynch, recused himself.

Walter Kavanaugh