There was a time when South Orange was the center of the political universe in Essex County. The small village of 16,000 people had more than its fair share of public and party offices: Peter Shapiro, who was elected to the State Assembly in 1975 (at age 23) and Essex County Executive in 1978; John Cryan, an Assemblyman from 1964 to 1968 and the Essex County Sheriff from 1968 to 1980; Harry Lerner, the longtime Essex County Democratic Chairman who was the party boss from the late 1960's until his retirement in 1979 (following Shapiro win over his candidate, Cryan, in the '78 Democratic County Executive primary); Martin Greenberg, who won State Senate races in 1973 and 1977; Larrie West Stalks, the Essex County Register from 1974 to 1989 and the sister of Newark powerhouse Calvin West; and Harry McEnroe, who served as an Essex County Freeholder and as an Assemblyman from 1980 to 1996. Wilfredo Caraballo was a South Orange resident when he replaced McEnroe in the Assembly in the 1995 election, but moved to the North Ward of Newark in time for the 2001 legislative redistricting, when South Orange became part of Richard Codey's district instead.
Over the years, South Orange's infuence has declined considerably. Greenberg left the Senate in 1979 (to join an Atlantic City casino, before legislators had a two-year waiting period), Cryan lost re-election that year, and Shapiro lost in 1986 — a year after losing South Orange to Thomas Kean in the 1985 campaign for Governor. Democratic State Chairman Joseph Cryan grew up in South Orange as the son of the Sheriff, but built his own political career in neighboring Union Township, where his success as Democratic Municipal Chairman in the 1990's helped him capture a State Assembly seat in 2001. Since Caraballo moved to Newark in 1999, no South Orange resident has won office beyond the municipal level.