What’s an appointment worth to a Democrat from a Republican County who might be looking at a patronage drought?
Back in 1981, Governor Brendan Byrne appointed labor leader Joel Jacobson to the Casino Control Commission. The nomination of the South Orange resident was blocked for months by James Wallwork, a Republican State Senator from Essex County. Wallwork exercised senatorial courtesy because none of the five casino commissioners came from South Jersey.
Wallwork wasn’t Jacobson’s only problem. Just months before the ’81 gubernatorial election, Republican Tom Kean and Democrat Jim Florio pledged to appoint a South Jerseyan to the CCC. And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stephen Perskie, an Atlantic County Democrat who wrote the state casino laws, also opposed Jacobson’s nomination
After six months, Jacobson did a Hail Mary: he moved his official residence from South Orange to his shore home in Long Beach Township, where a Democratic State Senator, John Russo, agreed to sign off on his nomination. Once he moved to Ocean County, Wallwork (who had lost the ’81 primary for Governor and was in his final months as a Senator) no longer had the right to block him.
Still, Byrne had a tough time getting his longtime friend approved by the Judiciary Committee. Perskie had committed in his re-election campaign (his predecessor, Joseph McGahn, had switched parties to run against him) that he would not vote for Jacobson. And two other Democratic Senators, Walter Sheil of Hudson (who had lost the primary) and Joseph Maressa of Camden, had also opposed Jacobson. During the lame duck session of the Legislature, Senate President Joseph Merlino (also on his way out, having run unsuccessfully for Governor) removed Sheil from the committee and replaced him with a Jacobson supporter.
Jacobson, who ran the New Jersey United Auto Workers Union and the Industrial Union Council for years, joined state government in 1974, when Byrne became Governor. He served as President of the Board of Public Utilities, and then as the state’s first Commissioner of Energy. As a Casino Commissioner, Jacobson made headlines for calling Frank Sinatra an “obnoxious bully” after he and Dean Martin “pressured a blackjack dealer into dealing from her hand instead of the plastic box required by state law.” For a few years after the incident, Sinatra refused to perform in New Jersey.
Not long after he took office, Jacobson returned to South Orange. Kean didn’t reappoint him to the CCC in 1986, and he passed away in 1989 at age 71.