The ultimate deal

The Democratic response to former Governor Thomas Kean’s charges that U.S. Senator Robert Menendez was unethical and part of New Jersey’s culture of corruptuion: an attack on Kean’s 1971 legendary deal with a Hudson County Democrat to become the new Assembly Speaker. Kean was the Assembly Majority Leader in 1971 when Republicans lost twenty seats in Governor William Cahill’s mid-term election, giving the Democrats a 40-39 majority; the last seat was won by an Independent candidate, Anthony Imperiale of Newark. S. Howard Woodson, an African American Minister from Trenton, was slated to become the new Speaker. But Kean forged a coalition with four Democratic Assemblymen — David Friedland, Silvio Failla and David Wallace of Hudson County and Joseph Higgins of Union County — to win enough votes to become Assemby Speaker. Those four Democrats all received Committee Chairmanship and a small share of the tiny amount of Assembly patronage. At the time, Friedland was the Assembly Minority Leader, but Democrats declined to pick him as their candidate for Speaker because of a scandal involving a loan sharking case that caused him to lose his law license for six months. Democrats won 26 more seats in 1973; Woodson was elected Speaker — the only African American to ever hold the post — and Kean became the new Minority Leader. But some Statehouse watchers from the 1970’s say that Kean had less to do with the Friedland deal than people think, arguing that the coalition was formed with then-Assemblyman Richard DeKorte — and that when Friedland realized that Kean, not DeKorte, would be Speaker, he suggested that he might have been double-crossed. Friedland, called “entirely too comfortable with members of organized crime” by the Deputy State Attorney General, did not run again in 1973, but won a State Senate seat four years later when he defeated incumbent Joseph Tumulty (whose uncle had been Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary) in the Democratic Primary. He was removed from office in 1980 after his conviction on federal corruption charges; just before his sentencing, he faked his death in a scuba diving accident off the coast of India and remained free until his capture in the Maldive Islands several years later. Failla was murdered by a pimp and a prostitute outside a bar in Neptune in 1971, while Wallace and Higgins lost party backing for re-election in 1973.

The ultimate deal