Joseph Minish, who passed away on Saturday at age 91, may be one of the top vote-getters in Essex County history. He won eleven races for Congress without ever falling below 58% in a district that was potentially competitive for Republicans.
When Minish first won in 1962, the eleventh district included the Central and West Wards of Newark and suburban (sometimes Republican-leaning) Essex town. By 1972, Newark was entirely out of his district, and his district included working class (and politically competitive) towns like Belleville, Bloomfield, West Orange, Montclair Hillside, North Arlington and Little Falls, Republican strongholds like the Maplewood and the Caldwells.
Republican presidential candidates carried the eleventh district in four successive elections: Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter by a 50%-40% margin in 1980, Gerald Ford carried it 54%-46% in 1976, Richard Nixon won it 60%-40% over George McGovern in 1972 and by 166 votes over Hubert Humphrey in 1968. But Reagan, Ford and Nixon had no coattails for Minish’s GOP opponents.
Minish was a labor leader when Essex County Democrats picked him for an open seat in ’62 – seven-term incumbent Hugh Addonizo was leaving to run for Mayor of Newark. He was unopposed in the primary, and beat Orange attorney Frank Palmieri by a 60%-37% margin in the general. He won a second term in 1964 against William Stubbs, the Central Ward GOP leader and the first African American to win a major party nomination for Congress in New Jersey, with 70% of the vote.
Minish’s lowest margin of victory came in 1966 when he defeated Leonard Felzenberg, a young lawyer, by a 58%-41% margin. Facing former Essex County GOP Chairman George Wallhauser (whose father had served in Congress from 1959 to 1965), Minish won 66%-33%.
In 1970, Minish faced James Shue, a wealthy young developer from South Orange, and won 69%-32%. Shue is the father actors Elisabeth Shue and Andrew Shue.
Republicans believed they had a shot at ousting Minish in 1972, when redistricting replaced Newark with more Republican-friendly towns. Their candidate was Milton Waldor, who had spent four years in the State Senate, and they had Nixon and U.S. Senator Clifford Case heading the ticket. But Minish won easily, 58%-40%.
Republicans never seriously contested the Minish seat again. In the Watergate year of 1974, former Montclair Commissioner William Grant won just 29%, and in 1976, Charles Poekel, a 25-year-old lawyer, received 31%. Developer Julius Feld took 29% in 1978, and former Essex County Young Republican Chairman Robert Davis received 34% in 1980. In his last win, Montclair businessman Rowley “Rey” Reddington won 35%.
The GOP finally took the eleventh district in 1984, after a panel of federal judges overturned the previous congressional map and picked a plan that added heavily-Republican Morris County to the Minish district, in place of key Democratic towns. Dean Gallo, then the Assembly Minority Leader, ran (Bob Franks was his campaign manager) and won 56%-44%, ending Minish’s 22-year career in Congress.