The Cavicchia story

Almost 78 years ago, Peter Angelo Cavicchia, an immigrant from the Campobasso Province of Italy, ran in a Republican primary on a slate with Joseph Frelinghuysen, a former U.S. Senator and scion of one of New Jersey’s oldest and most powerful political families. Now, Peter Cavicchia’s grandson is thinking about challenging Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen in the 2008 Republican primary.

Prohibition had split the GOP between wets and drys, and when U.S. Senator Walter Edge resigned to become the U.S. Ambassador to France, three Republicans entered the 1930 race for the open U.S. Senate seat: industrialist Dwight Morrow, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and the father-in-law of aviator Charles Lindbergh), former U.S. Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen, who lost his bid for re-election in 1922 and lost a GOP U.S. Senate primary in 1928 (to Hamilton Kean, the grandfather of the future Governor; he finished third behind former Governor Edward Stokes, losing 34%-29%-34% in a five-candidate field), and Franklin Fort, a three-term Congressman from Essex County whose father, John Franklin Fort, was the Governor of New Jersey from 1908 to 1911. Morrow and Fort were considered wets, while Frelinghuysen was a dry.

Three candidates sought the Republican nomination for Fort’s House seat: Joseph Cassini, who ran with Morrow; Meader Wright, who ran on Fort’s dry ticket, and the 51-year-old Cavicchia, a fourteen-year member of the Newark Board of Education, who emigrated from Italy at age eleven and went to NYU law school.

Morrow won the Senate primary with 72%, with 20% for Fort and just 8% for Frelinghuysen. While Morrow won Essex County by 55,000 votes over Fort (69%-20%), Cavicchia, with the backing of Essex County GOP Chairman Jesse Salmon, defeated Wright and Cassini to win the Republican nomination for Congress.

In the general election, Cavicchia defeated Daniel Minahan, a former Mayor of Orange who had won election to Congress in 1918, lost in 1920, won again in 1922 (after the incumbent who had unseated him, Herbert Taylor, lost the GOP primary, and lost to Fort in 1924.

Cavicchia was re-elected in 1932 and 1934, but lost his seat in the 1936 Franklin Roosevelt landslide to Edward O’Neill, a 33-year-old mortgage risk examiner for the Federal Housing Administration. That year, Kean lost his U.S. Senate seat to William Smathers, a Democratic State Senator from Atlantic County whose nephew, George Smathers, would later represent Florida in the Senate.

Cavicchia was the Essex County Supervisor of Inheritance Taxes from 1937 to 1936, and the Newark Planning Board Chairman from 1946 to 1957. He died in 1967, at age 88. His brother, Dominic Cavicchia, served several years as a Republican Assemblyman from Essex County, and was Assembly Speaker in 1944.

Footnotes: Joseph Frelinghuysen was the nephew of Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, who served two non-consecutive terms as a U.S. Senator, as Ulysses Grant’s Minister to England, and as Chester Arthur’s U.S. Secretary of State. Frederick Frelinghuysen was Rodney Frelinghuysen’s great-great-grandfather.

Daniel Minahan was serving as the Orange City Clerk in 1914 when he ran for City Commissioner in the first election under a new form of government. He was the top vote-getter in a field of 57 candidates, and was selected as Mayor.

Edward O’Neill served just one term in Congress. He lost re-election in 1938 to Albert Vreeland, 37, the East Orange Municipal Court Judge. Re-elected in 1940, Vreeland took a leave of absence from the House after Pearl Harbor to go on active military duty. After Roosevelt recalled Members of Congress back to Washington, Vreeland declined to run again in 1942, and re-enlisted when he left office in January 1943. O’Neill also served in the Army during World War II. He died in 1948, at age 45.

Vreeland’s successor, East Orange GOP Chairman Frank Sundstrom, served three terms in Congress before losing his seat in 1948 to a young World War II veteran and future Mayor of Newark, Hugh Addonizio.

The Cavicchia story