It’s tough to stump Steve Adubato, Sr. on political trivia, especially when the question is about Newark politics. And The Inside Edge should have know better than to ask him to name the last Mayor of Newark to run statewide. Adubato had no trouble coming up with the name of Vincent Murphy, who was the Democratic candidate for Governor in 1943; Murphy lost to Republican Walter Edge by nearly 147,000 votes. (Murphy lost his bid for re-election to a third term as Mayor in 1949, and served as President of the New Jersey AFL-CIO from 1961 to 1970.)
Adubato told PolitickerNJ.com’s Max Pizarro that “no Mayor of Newark ever succeeded statewide. They either went to jail or oblivion.” He’s right.
Look at Theodore Frelinghuysen, a member of one of New Jersey’s premier political families. Frelinghuysen was elected to the U.S. Senate (on his second try) in 1828, at age 41, but lost his bid for re-election six years later. In 1837, he won a two-year term as Mayor of Newark — the last election he would ever win. Frelinghuysen, the great-great-great-uncle of U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelyinghuysen, was the Whig candidate for Vice President on Henry Clay’s ticket in 1844 and lost to Democrats James Polk and George Dallas — although the did carry New Jersey, with 50.5% of the vote.
Other mayors, like Kenneth Gibson (in 1981 and 1985) and Thomas Raymond (1919), lost gubernatorial primaries. Raymond also lost a GOP primary for State Senator between his two non-consecutive mayoral terms.
Before Cory Booker, seven of the last eight mayors lost their bids for re-election. Sharpe James is the first Mayor since James Seymour in 1902 to not seek re-election.
Five of the last seven Newark Mayors faced criminal charges — most recently James. The former five-term Mayor was sentenced last July to 27 months in a federal prison following is conviction on corruption charges. Gibson, a four-term Mayor who lost to James in 1986, pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion in 2002 as part of a plea agreement on fraud and bribery charges. He had been indicted in 1980 on charges of giving out no-show jobs, but was acquitted by an Essex County jury.
Gibson’s predecessor, Hugh Addonizio, had spent fourteen years in Congress before running for Mayor in 1962 and ousting Leo Carlin, a Teamsters leader and former Assemblyman. According to local legend, when asked why he would give up his seniority in Washington to be Mayor, Addonizio said: “Because you can make a million dollars in that job.” Despite his indictment on charges that he received over $1.4 million in kickbacks from city contractors, Addonizio ran for a third term and made it to a runoff with Gibson. His trial began eight days before the runoff, and after an eight-week trial, he was found guilty on 64 counts of extortion and conspiracy. He spent five years in a federal prison.
Ralph Villani, who defeated Murphy in 1949, was serving as Municipal Court Judge in 1934 when he was accused of receiving $50 for allowing a vendor to sell Easter flowers on city property. He was found not guilty and went on to win election as a City Commissioner before serving as Mayor from 1949 to 1954, when Carlin beat him. Villani returned to the City Council in 1962 and served until his resignation, for health reasons, just before his death in 1974. His widow, Marie Villani, was appointed to fill his Council seat, which she held until her own criminal conviction in 1993. Marie Villani is the last white candidate to win a Newark municipal election.
Meyer Ellenstein, who was Mayor from 1933 to 1941, was indicted in 1939 on charges that he conspired have the city buy land from political insiders for three to five times its worth. A 1940 trial was halted after fourteen weeks when the Judge declared a mistrial. After rumors of jury tampering, jurors from Somerset County were brought in for the twelve-week trail. (Grace Welsh, a housewife from Somerville, became the first woman to sit on a jury for a criminal case in New Jersey). Ellenstein was aquitted in 1941, but lost his bid for re-election that year to Murphy. Ellenstein had defeated incumbent Jerome Congleton, who had become Mayor in 1928 when Raymond passed away.