The 10th District: Only three Congressmen in 80 years

The Essex-Hudson tenth district congressional seat has elected just three people over the past 75 years: Fred Hartley, who served from 1929 to 1949, Peter Rodino from 1949 to 1989, and Donald Payne, who won the seat when Rodino retired in 1988.

But in the sixteen years prior to Hartley’s election, the seat changed hands seven times.

Democrat Eugene Kinkead was a 32-year-old Jersey City Alderman when he won the seat in 1908; he retired in 1914 to run for higher office: Hudson County Sheriff. Kinkead ran to help Frank Hague take control of Hudson County over supporters of former Mayor H. Otto Wittpenn. Kinkead defeated Emil Groth, the Wittpenn candidate, by about 1,200 votes countywide. Hague’s candidates for County Clerk, County Supervisor, and for twelve State Assembly seats, won.

After Hague became Mayor of Jersey City in 1916, he dropped Kinkead from the 1917 Hudson County Democratic organization line. Kinkead served in the U.S. Army during World War I, eventually moved to South Orange, where he became a banker and newspaper publisher. He died in South Orange in 1960 at age 84.

In the race to succeed Kinkead in Congress, Gerald McDonald, the Hague candidate, won the Democratic primary by just 98 votes over Cornelius McGlennon. But McDonald lost the general election to Republican Edward Gray, a 44-year-old former newspaper editor who had served as Secretary to Governor Edward Stokes. Gray gave up his seat after two terms to run for the U.S. Senate, but lost the GOP nomination to Governor Walter Edge. He later lost Republican primaries for Congress in 1924 and U.S. Senate in 1928.

Gray’s open seat was won in 1918 by McGlennon, the 40-year-old Senate Minority Leader and the Mayor of East Newark. McGlennon won narrowly, 48.7%-47.6% over Republican William Ross. He lost his bid for a second term in 1920 by a 50%-39% margin to Essex County Republican Chairman Herbert Taylor, 51, a former Assemblyman and Newark City Councilman. Taylor sought a second term in 1922, but was defeated in the GOP primary to Warren Coon, who lost the general election to Democrat Frank McNulty, the 50-year-old President of the state International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) union, by a 59%-40% margin. Taylor sought a comeback in 1924, unseating McNulty, 57%-43%, but lost the seat again in 1926 to Democrat Paul Moore, 58%-42%.

Wittpenn, a Rotarian-American, was serving as Hudson County Supervisor when he ran for Mayor of Jersey City in 1904, ousting three-term incumbent Mark Fagan (the last Republican to win until Bret Schundler in 1992) by 10,000 votes. Wittpenn was re-elected in 1907 and 1910, but lost in 1913 in a rematch with Fagan.

Had Wittpenn been re-elected, he would likely have secured the Democratic nomination for Governor that year. That was a key factor in the decision of Acting Governor James Fielder, who had taken over after Woodrow Wilson was elected President, in backing a slate of candidates against Wittpenn in the Jersey City municipal elections. Fielder, a State Senator from Hudson County whose father had served as Hudson County Register in the 1880’s and in Congress in the 1890’s, was elected Governor in 1913.

Also an ally of Wilson, Wittpenn became the Naval Commander of the Port of New York. He won the Democratic nomination for Governor in 1916 — the same year Hague was elected Mayor – and lost to Walter Edge by 70,000 votes.

The 10th District: Only three Congressmen in 80 years