When L. Harvey Smith returns to Trenton in January, he will join a rather obscure and exclusive club: former State Senators who become Assemblymen. Smith served in the Senate for three months in 2003 and 2004, between Joseph Charles‘ resignation to become a Superior Court Judge and Glenn Cunningham taking office in January 2004.
The last former Senator to go to the lower house was Kevin O’Toole, who was an Assemblyman when he won a 2001 Special Election Convention when Senator Louis Bassano resigned to take a job at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. But his seat — the old 21st district that included parts of western Essex and Union counties — was eliminated in redistricting; O’Toole was moved to the 40th, which was dominated by Bergen and Passaic, and returned to the Assembly to await the retirement — six years later — of Senator Henry McNamara.
Seven other ex-Senators went to the Assembly under the current State Constitution:
- William Schluter was elected to the Assembly in 1967 and 1969, and to the Senate in 1971. He lost re-election in the 1973 Watergate landslide and narrowly missed ousting a Democratic Congresswoman in 1976. When Senator Walter Foran died in 1987, Richard Zimmer moved up to the Senate and Schluter won Zimmer’s Assembly seat. After Zimmer went to Congress in 1991, Schluter returned to the Senate, where he served until 2001; redistricting would have forced him to run against Democratic Senator Shirley Turner — instead, he waged an Independent campaign for Governor.
- Joseph Azzolina was elected to the Assembly in 1965 and moved up to the Senate in 1971. Like Schluter, he lost in the Watergate year (the GOP lost fourteen Senate seats in that election) and a Senate comeback bid in 1977. He returned to the Assembly in 1985 (ousting Democratic incumbents in the Kean landslide) and left to make an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1987. Azzolina ran a strong race for Congress in 1988, and went back to the Assembly in 1991 (when his running mate, Joseph Kyrillos, moved up to the Senate), where he remained until losing a GOP primary in 2005.
- William Bate was elected to the State Senate in 1971, but the 1973 reapportionment placed him in the same district as another Democratic Senator, Joseph Hirkala. Instead, Bate — a sitting Senator — ran for the Assembly and won. He spent eight years in the Assembly, and after a new round of redistricting, ran again for the Senate in 1981. He lost to Republican Joseph Bubba. Yesterday, Bate won renomination for a fifth term as Passaic County Surrogate.
- Nicholas LaRocca, a lawyer from Union City, won a Special Election for State Senator in 1982, when his mentor, William Vincent Musto, forfeited his Senate seat following his criminal conviction. The following year, Hudson County Democrats (some say still following orders from Musto’s prison cell) sent Assembly Speaker Christopher Jackman to the Senate, and LaRocca instead ran for the Assembly. LaRocca didn’t seek re-election in 1985, and the district went Republican in the Kean landslide. Two years later, Robert Menendez and Bernard Kenny won the two seats back for the Democrats — making LaRocca the last Musto Democrat to serve in the Legislature.
- Anthony Imperiale, the last Independent candidate to win a races for the Legislature in New Jersey, was elected to the Assembly in 1971 and to the Senate in 1973. He forced Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson into a runoff 1974, and lost his Senate seat to the legendary Harrison Mayor Frank Rodgers (whose record of 48 years as Mayor still stands). He returned to the Assembly in 1979 as a Republican, defeating Democratic incumbent John Cali. (The other seat was held by Assemblyman, the late brother of Newark political leader Stephen Adubato.) Imperiale gave up his Assembly seat after one term to make an unsuccessful bid for the 1981 Republican gubernatorial nomination.
- Frank McDermott was elected to the Assembly in 1963 and re-elected in 1965. He won a State Senate seat in 1967, served as Senate President in 1969, ran for Governor in the ’69 GOP primary, and won a second term in 1971. He lost re-election in 1973 (to Alexander Menza) and came back to win an Assembly seat in 1975 (on a ticket with Bassano, who had lost his Assembly seat in the Watergate landslide). McDermott ran for the Senate again in 1977 and lost to Union Mayor Anthony Russo for Menza’s open seat. He spent many years as the Union County GOP Chairman.
- Thomas Dunn, the Mayor of Elizabeth from 1964 to 1992, was elected to the State Senate in 1973. Union County Democrats decided to dump Dunn from their ticket in 1977 and replace him with Assemblyman John Gregorio, the Mayor of Linden; Dunn ran as an Independent, but lost. He was elected to the Assembly in 1991, and in 1992 he lost the Democratic primary for Mayor to Christian Bollwage — twelve years after Raymond Lesniak had lost his own bid for Mayor.