Former Ocean County Democratic Chairman Alfonso Santoro, who pleaded guilty today to federal corruption charges, has spent most of his life around the political arena. His father, Raymond V. Santoro, was a longtime Essex County Democratic leader who served on the Newark City Council from 1958 until his death in 1962, at age 53.
Santoro’s campaign for City Councilman sparked a controversy that went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Council candidates are required to receive a majority of votes, or go to a runoff election. In that election, 106,125 ballots were cast and candidates for four At-Large seats received a combined 300,572 votes. The City Clerk, Harry Reichenstein, divided the total number of votes by four (75,143) and then ruled that a candidates needed a 37,572 of them (50%+1) to win. A state Appellate Court ruled that Reichenstein’s math was wrong, and that he should have required a winning candidate to receive half the number of ballots – or 53,063 votes. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling and ordered a runoff election.
Chief Justice Joseph Weintraub made it clear he didn’t blame Reichenstein: “It isn’t the clearest statute, is it?” he observed.
Raymond Santoro was highly regarded by Essex Democrats, and was a state coordinator for Richard Hughes‘ campaign for Governor in 1961.
For extreme political junkies: nineteen candidates filed for the four Newark At-Large Council seats in 1962, among them a thirty-year-old Essex County Welfare Board caseworker named William Payne. Payne did not make it to the runoff in a historical local election that saw U.S. Rep. Hugh Addonizio unseat two-term Mayor Leo Carlin, but ten years later his younger brother, Donald Payne, won a seat on the Essex County Board of Freeholders. Donald Payne lost a Democratic primary for Essex County Executive in 1978 (he finished third, but peeled off enough organization votes to deny the nod to Joseph Cryan’s father against young Assemblyman Peter Shapiro). Donald Payne lost primaries to U.S. Rep. Peter Rodino in 1980 and 1986, won the South Ward City Council seat in 1982, and became New Jersey’s first African American Congressman when Rodino retired in 1988. Bill Payne waited until 1997 to win an election, his first of five terms in the State Assembly; he is currently the Deputy Chief of Staff to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.
The ’62 Council race was also the first political campaign for another future Assemblyman, Harry McEnroe. McEnroe lost his bid for a West Ward council seat moved to South Orange, and became a Freeholder. His niece, Karen Golding, used to be a lobbyist.