With the passing of Paul Porreca on Friday evening, the longest-living New Jersey congressional candidate is Richard J. Traynor, who ran as a Democrat against Rep. Florence P. Dwyer (R-Elizabeth) in 1964.
Now 91 and living in Maine, Traynor is the only living candidate for Congress to run on a ticket with Lyndon Johnson.
Traynor, an attorney and U.S. Army veteran, was elected to the New Providence Borough Council in 1963 and was the first Democrat to win a council seat since 1932. He defeated incumbent Audrey Coddington, a Republican and the first woman to serve in local office in New Providence, by just twelve votes.
He won the attention of county Democrats when he represented New Providence Democratic mayoral candidate Francis R. Farley in a challenge to the 1962 election results.
Farley and Republican John Clay finished the general election in a tie – a recount had reversed Clay’s one-vote win — but Traynor claimed that two absentee ballots cast for Clay were deficient. A judge rejected one of them, giving Farley a one-vote victory.
Clay had beaten incumbent Frank LeBart in the GOP primary; LeBart had run as a write-in candidate in the general election.
The old 6th district was comprised of all of Union County.
Dwyer was serving her fourth term in the State Assembly when she defeated incumbent Harrison A. Williams, Jr. (D-Plainfield) in 1956. Until Tom Malinowski ousted Leonard Lance in 2018, Williams was the last Democrat to represent what is now the 7th district
Dwyer held her seat by just four points in the 1958 mid-term elections, but upped her winning percentage to 58% in 1960 and 60% in 1962.
Democrats recruited Traynor, a 35-year-old attorney and U.S. Army veteran, to take on the popular incumbent. He had only served on the council for a few months when he decided to take on Dwyer.
Traynor had some political connections beyond serving in local office. His father had been the founder of the Plumbers, Steamfitters & Pipefitters Local 309 and his brother, Robert J. Traynor, who had been awarded the Purple Heart during World War II, later served as union president.
Dwyer, a 62-year-old centrist Republican, had refused to say if she was voting for her party’s presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater. Traynor hammered her on that.
Traynor tethered himself to Johnson and Williams, who had won a U.S. Senate seat in 1958 and was seeking re-election to a second term.
Johnson won Union County by 81,990 votes, 66%-33%, and Williams carried his home county by 64,242 votes, 63%-36, against Republican Bernard Shanley, a former top aide to President Dwight Eisenhower. Goldwater carried only Fanwood.
Dwyer bucked the Democratic tide at the top of the ticket and defeated Traynor by 4,978 votes, 59.7% to 40.3%. She won Elizabeth, her hometown, by more than 4,000 votes, and carried Linden by nearly 800 votes. Dwyer won every municipality but Winfield, which gave Traynor a 31-vote win. New Providence gave Dwyer a plurality of about 1,000 votes.
Union County went back to the LBJ line and elected four Democrats to the Board of Freeholders, taking out GOP incumbents. One of the freeholders who lost his seat, Matthew Rinaldo (R-Union), replaced Dwyer in Congress when she retired in 1972.
Noteworthy: voter turnout in Union County in the 1964 general election was about 90%.
In the fall of 1965, Gov. Richard J. Hughes appointed Traynor to serve as a judge of the New Jersey Workman’s Compensation Court. He resigned from the council and never ran for public office again.
Traynor later served as president of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee in the 1980s and 1990s and represented the organization as an attorney.
In the 1989 gubernatorial election, when pro-life Rep. Jim Courter (R-Allamuchy) substantially softened his stance on abortion after the Republican primary, Traynor took the lead in criticizing Courter as a flip-flopper.
After Courter lost to Democrat Jim Florio, he launched a bid to become the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. Traynor pushed national pro-life groups to lobby President George H.W. Bush against a Courter nomination.
In 1999, Traynor retired from his Morristown law firm and moved to Maine. He served as executive director of the Maine Right to Life Committee from 1999 to 2004.
The title of longest-living congressional candidate – it doesn’t necessarily mean oldest, just the longest time ago – has switched twice this year.
Martin S. Fox, a Millburn attorney who ran for Congress against Rep. Robert W. Kean (R-Livingston) in 1952 and 1954, died of complications related to COVID-19 in April. He was 95.
Porecca, a former Millville City Commissioner who ran against Rep. Milton Glenn (R-Margate) in 1962, was 85 when he died on Friday evening.
Another Eisenhower and Kennedy era congressional candidate, A. Jerome Moore, died in 2018 at age 94. Moore ran against Rep. Frank Thompson (D-Trenton) in 1958 and 1960.
Rep. Cornelius Gallagher (D-Bayonne), who represented part of Hudson County in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1959 to 1973, died in 2018 at age 97.
The earliest serving living congressman from New Jersey are Florio and Andrew Maguire (D-Ridgewood), who defeated Republican incumbents in the 1974 Watergate landslide. Florio, Maguire and Harold Hollenbeck (R-East Rutherford) are the only remaining New Jersey congressmen to serve while Gerald Ford was president; Hollenbeck took his seat seventeen days before Ford left office.
New Jersey’s oldest living congressman is Frank J. Guarini (D-Jersey City), who is 95. Guarini served from 1979 to 1993.