Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone (D-Bayonne), indicted today on charges that he that funneled legislative paychecks for aides into a campaign account, stands an excellent chance of winning re-election if he refuses to drop out of the race. It might be impossible for a Democrat to lose District 31, which includes Bayonne and part of Jersey City.
Democrats have a 8-1 voter registration edge in the 31st district. Chiappone was unopposed in the 2007 general election; in 2005, Democrats won by more than 18,000 votes. Bayonne delivered a margin of nearly 5,000 and the plurality in Jersey City was over 13,000.
Between 1977 and 1981, the 31st district was the site of several hotly contested Democratic primaries. State Sen. James Dugan (D-Bayonne), the sitting Democratic State Chairman, lost his bid for a third term to Walter Sheil. Four years later, Sheil was ousted in the Democratic primary by Edward O’Connor.
The district changed Assemblymen in 1977. Speaker Joseph LeFante (D-Bayonne) had been elected to Congress one year earlier, and Hudson County Democrats dumped controversial Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman William Perkins (D-Jersey City). The seats went to Charles Mays (D-Jersey City), a former U.S. Olympic bronze medalist, and Patrick Pasculli (D-Bayonne), a mortician.
Pasculli spent his first month in office defending his bill to allow legislators to avoid tolls on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike, and he was dumped in 1979 for Joseph Doria (D-Bayonne), a 33-year-old school board member. Mays was beaten in 1981 by former Deputy Attorney General Joseph Charles (D-Jersey City). In that primary, Doria and Charles ran with Sheil; Mays and Gerald Fitzpatrick, the son of the former mayor, ran with Sheil.
From 1981 to 2003, District 31 became one of the state’s most politically stable districts with incumbents easily winning re-election. (O’Connor had a scare from newcomer Bret Schundler in the 1991 Republican landslide, but still won by 3,118 votes.) When O’Connor retired in 1981 (he later became a Judge), Charles moved up to the Senate; he was replaced by Elba Perez-Cinciarelli.
Charles’ retirement after just one term (he too wanted a judgeship) provoked a fierce Senate primary between the choice of the Hudson County Democratic organization, Jersey City Council President L. Harvey Smith, and Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham. Cunningham beat the HCDO in the primary, and his two running mates, Louis Manzo and Chiappone, ousted Doria and Perez-Cinciarelli.
Cunningham died of a heart attack in 2004 and Doria replaced him in the Senate; in a special general election, he beat easily beat Chiappone, who was running as an independent. Democrats dumped Chiappone from their Assembly ticket in 2005, replacing him with Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Charles Epps. Manzo ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate in 2007 against Cunningham’s widow, and Epps was dumped. Chiappone went back to the Assembly, along with Smith.