SOMERVILLE – Beloved family, friends and members of the political establishment today celebrated gregarious politician, man’s man, old school storyteller, proud Italian-American, and New Jersey patriarch Assemblyman Peter J. “Pete” Biondi (R-16).
Mr. Biondi died last Thursday at age 69, two days after winning his seventh legislative re-election bid and learning of his victory in the hospital.
The funeral service drew ranks of Republican Party allies who recalled the life of a local Somerset County legend, who adored politics.
“This was a man who valued connections tremendously,” said the Rev. Pastor Paul J. Walther of the United Reformed Church in downtown Somerville, several blocks from Mr. Biondi’s legislative office. “His was a life – not of the rugged individualist – but of connectedness and cooperation. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Somerset County Republican Chairman Al Gaburo and Nick Biondi, the assemblyman’s cousin, delivered the service’s two eulogies.
Throughout both sets of remarks emerged the portrait of a good humored, hard working, and politically savvy politician who delighted in his life from the beginning, excelling in high school sports as a running back, building a successful freight brokerage business and family – and throughout enjoying the presence of people.
His widow, Joan, two children, and two grandsons, Jason and Matthew, occupied the front row. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), and many elected officials, including his running mates, state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman and Assemblyman-elect Jack Ciattarelli, gathered in praise.
Nick Biondi recalled his cousin’s uncomplaining worksite presence in the 1950s when the future politician worked for several years in the family’s heavy transport business.
Born in Newark, Mr. Biondi grew up in then-rural Union County.
“He enjoyed riding horses, even into adulthood,” he said. “As a little kid, he always wanted to hang out with the older guys. I was seven years older. We would sneak away and hide, and he would always find us. Now, I’m glad he did.”
Gaburo said he first met Mr. Biondi in the early 1990s when the latter was making preparations to run for political office and shaking as many hands and rustling as many votes as he could. He fondly recalled Mr. Biondi’s political gift for small talk: the ability, Mr. Gaburo said, to mingle at a cocktail party or fundraiser and speak “without saying anything at all.”
The campaign slogan back then was, “For Pete’s sake, vote Biondi,” and those were Mr. Biondi’s first, hearty words of greeting to Gaburo that day.
The younger man promptly complimented the future assemblyman on his taste in suits.
“I get my suits at Gino’s in Raritan,” Mr. Biondi told the future GOP chaiman.
“I’m from Raritan,” Gaburo said.
Mr. Biondi cracked a grin.
“I know,” he said. “That’s why I told you where I get my suits.”
Gaburo marveled at Mr. Biondi’s strategic political gifts, recalling a “master of the moving parts of politics” who was always two or three moves ahead of everyone else.
He reiterated a list of newspaper quotes employed by Mr. Biondi throughout the years, including the following: “If you’re explaining, you’re losing;” “We need a wartime consigliere;” “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees;” and “leave the gun, take the cannolis.”
He described a politician who never lost the common touch of the people, who went to Wawa in Hillsborough and talked with people on tough issues of the day for up to two hours at a time.
Mr. Bondi forged a big public presence in his hometown of Hillsborough. As he struggled this past year with his illness, local politicians opened a new court room in the Hillsborough Municipal Building. The Assemblyman’s absence was noted, but those who couldn’t help but notice the portrait of Mr. Biondi in the room joked that they thought the portrait’s eyes “followed them around the room.”
Having won seven straight legislative elections, Mr. Biondi fought a tough one nearly a week ago and emerged the winner at the end of the night. “As always, he ran a good, strong race,” said Gaburo. “It’s time for us to finish.”
The chairman choked back tears. “And one more time,” Gaburo said, “For Pete’s sake, vote Biondi.”
At the lectern at the end of the service, Nick Biondi removed his glasses as he was overcome by emotion above the casket draped by an American Flag.
His late cousin told him recently that the older Biondi was his hero.
Nick Biondi said he told his younger relative in response that he was his hero, and the hero of their Italian family’s for having made a success of himself, become mayor of Hillsborough and a New Jersey assemblyman.
Acting Gov. Guadagno issued an executive order that all state buildings fly flags at half-staff on Wednesday in recognition and mourning.
“Assemblyman Peter Biondi was a distinguished public and community servant,” said Gov. Chris Christie. “A leader who elevated principles above partisanship, his courage and integrity serve as an example for us all. I extend my deepest sympathies to the Biondi family on the passing of this respected and much-admired New Jerseyan.”