Home>Campaigns>Greenberg, Caufield, Rice — and now Burgess

State Sen. Ronald L. Rice at a special election convention for the 28th district on September 9, 2022. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Greenberg, Caufield, Rice — and now Burgess

Irvington woman is jut the fourth person to represent the 28th district in the N.J. State Senate

By David Wildstein, September 29 2022 12:29 pm

When Renee Burgess takes the oath of office at 12:30 PM as the new state senator from the 28th district, she will become just the fourth person to represent the Essex County legislative district since New Jersey went to a 40-district map in 1973.

When the district was first drawn 49 years ago, it included South Orange, Irvington and the West Ward of Newark, as well as a small number of districts in Newark’s Central and North wards.

The first senator was Martin L. Greenberg (D-South Orange), who had been a law partner of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brendan Byrne.   Greenberg had run for the State Senate in 1971, when Essex’s five seats were elected at-large, but finished sixth, 3,353 votes behind his running mate, Wynona Lipman (D-Montclair).  Democrats won three of the five Essex Senate seats that year.

When the new district was created in 1973, it had one incumbent, State Sen. Ralph DeRose (D-South Orange).  But DeRose had decided to run for governor instead of seeking a second term in the Senate.

Greenberg faced off against Essex County Freeholder Director Philip Keegan for the Senate seat.  The Democratic county chairman, Harry Lerner, decided to back Greenberg for Senate, and run Keegan for Assembly with Rocco Neri, the Essex County Undersheriff and the Irvington Democratic Municipal Chairman.

That put Greenberg on the Democratic organization line headed by DeRose, who had Lerner’s support, while his preferred candidate, Byrne, ran off the line in Essex County.  While running with DeRose, Greenberg worked full-time on Byrne’s primary campaign.

Greenberg was unopposed in the primary and defeated Republican Joseph Galluzzi, an Irvington councilman, with 60% of the vote.  He was re-elected in 1977 with 58% against Rev. James Pindar, a Catholic priest and Seton Hall University professor.

Greenberg resigned from the Senate in 1979 to become president and general counsel to the Golden Nugget casino in Atlantic City.  He later served as general counsel to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and as a Superior Court Judge from 1992 to 2002.

To replace Greenberg, Essex County Democrats selected Newark Fire Director John Caufield to run for the State Senate in what became a crowded field for the Democratic nomination in a November special election

Caufield beat out DeRose, who was seeking a political comeback after losing gubernatorial primaries in 1973 and 1977, former freeholders James Zangari (D-Irvington) and Harry McEnroe (D-South Orange), Newark West Ward Councilman Michael Bottone, Essex County Community Development Director john Alati, Irvington Councilwoman Esther Schwartz, and Joseph Papasidero, who had spent ten weeks in the State Assembly in 1978 and 1979.

Caufield and McEnroe had won the Democratic nomination for State Assembly in the 28th.  After Caufield moved to the Senate race, Democrats picked Zangari to run for Assembly.

In the special election, Caufield defeated Republican Walter Cohn, an attorney from South Orange, by 6,215 votes, 58%-25%, with Bottone receiving 17% as an independent.

Caufield coated to re-election in 1981 and 1983 and died in office on August 24, 1986 at ag e67 after a long battle with cancer.

The race to succeed Caufield in a November 1986 special pitted Ronald Rice, the Newark West Ward city councilman and a former police officer, West Ward Democratic chair Dan O’Flaherty also entered the race and had the backing of Caufield’s widow.

Assemblyman Michael Adubato (D-Newark), the brother of political kingmaker Stephen Adubato, Sr., wanted the Senate seat, but party leaders – including his brother – felt the district ought to be represented by a Black senator.  Rice had backed Sharpe James for mayor of Newark three months earlier in his successful bid to unseat incumbent Kenneth Gibson.

Rice defeated O’Flaherty, 89-28, in a special convention of the Democratic county committee.

He went on to serve nearly 36 years in the State Senate before health issues forced his resignation last month.  Rice is the longest-serving Black lawmaker in New Jersey history.

Burgess, who had been the Irvington Council President, won the seat in a special election convention without opposition after winning support from Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones and Democratic local officials in Irvington and Bloomfield.

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