James Anzaldi, who stepped down at the end of last year after 32 years as mayor of Clifton, has joined the congressional staff of Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) as a community liaison, ending a retirement that lasted just four months.
Anzaldi was a Republican who consistently won Clifton’s non-partisan municipal elections by wide margins.
“A few weeks ago, we toasted Jim Anzaldi as the greatest mayor Clifton, New Jersey has ever had,” Pascrell said. “But in Jim’s departure from elected office, I saw an opportunity for Mayor Anzaldi to continue his public service.”
Pascrell said that “hiring “ James Anzaldi to our great district team is like adding Cal Ripken to your roster.”
Anzaldi said he still had a “strong desire to continue my service to our community in some way.”
“I have worked alongside Congressman Pascrell for over a generation,” stated Anzaldi. “The Congressman’s staff has a deserved reputation as the best in the business, and so I jumped at the chance to join the office.”
Pascrell is seeking re-election next year.
Pascrell was elected to the House in 1996, narrowly defeating Bill Martini, a freshman Republican from Clifton, in New Jersey’s 9th district.
A late bloomer politically, Pascrell was 50 when he won his first term as an assemblyman, 53 when he was elected mayor of Paterson, and became a freshman congressman a few weeks before his 60th birthday.
If he’s re-elected next year, Pascrell he would be just 22 days shy of 90 when his term is up. But age has not slowed Pascrell down; he was one of Donald Trump’s harshest critics in the House.
Last year the Passaic County Democrat won the closest re-election campaign of his career in a new district that was drawn to pick up Republican towns given to him to boost the re-election prospects of two Democratic House members. Josh Gottheimer in the 5th district and Mikie Sherrill in the 11th.
Pascrell defeated Republican Billy Prempeh, a U.S. Air Force veteran, by a 55%-44% margin, the lowest percentage of any Democrat in the New Jersey delegation in 2022.
In 2020, under the old map, Pascrell beat Prempeh by 34 points. He won a Democratic primary with 80% that year.
The Anzaldi Primer
At 73, Anzaldi is at an age where many New Jerseyans are just beginning their political careers. He was a 28-year-old aide to Assemblyman Emil Olszowy (R-Passaic) and a Clifton Department of Public Works employee when he first won a council seat in 1978 and lost his first re-election bid four years later. He came back and regained his seat in 1986 and became mayor when he outpolled Gloria Kolodziej by about 30 votes in 1990.
In a way, a 32-year career as mayor was not what Anzaldi had in mind. He became involved in a Passaic County Republican civil war in 1983, when freshman State Sen. Joseph Bubba (R-Wayne) was dumped from the organization line by GOP county chairman Rocco Motta and replaced by Assemblyman Terry LaCorte R-Clifton).
Anzaldi and former Surrogate Leonard Talerico ran with LaCorte, while first-term Newton Miller (R-Wayne) and Clifton Councilman (and former mayor) Gerald Zecker ran off the line with Bubba. Motta dumped Anzaldi over two freeholders who wanted to run, Fred DeFuria and Francis Calise, because he viewed the young former councilman as a stronger campaigner.
Bubba won an off-the-line victory by 1,145 votes, 57%-43%, against LaCorte. Anzaldi finished 1,470 votes behind Zecker.
In 1989, Anzaldi ran for Passaic County Clerk and came within roughly 3,000 votes (52%-48%) of unseating the Democratic incumbent, William Kattak. Democrat Jim Florio carried Passaic County in the governor’s race that year by a 55,920-vote margin.
When New Jersey’s legislative districts were being redrawn in 2011, Gov. Chris Christie had quietly worked to recruit Anzaldi to run for the State Senate in a district Republicans had drawn to appear safe Democratic, but with the belief that Anzaldi’s personal popularity in Clifton would allow him to win a general election.
The Republican plan initially was a district that included Clifton, Nutley, Belleville and part of South Bergen in a new 36th district. Christie wanted to force Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) and Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen) into a Democratic primary in a district that included the city of Passaic. But when the final GOP map was submitted, the district went from Clifton to Wayne.