William F. Dowd, a smart and gregarious former Assemblyman and longtime Monmouth County Chairman, passed away on Saturday night. He was 74.
“He was brilliant – published in the New York Times more than just about any Republican- and a truly independent spirit. In a world where there are far too few of those. He was a dear friend of William F.Buckley and Declan O’Scanlon, proving one could span a wide range of intellectual challenge,” said State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon. “He loved dogs, those of four legs and those of merely two. I was lucky to have known him. Monmouth County was lucky to have benefited from his leadership.”
Dowd began his political career as an aide to longtime State Sen. Richard Stout and to Assemblyman James Coleman. He went to Washington after the 1968 presidential election and worked as a speechwriter for U.S. Secretary of the Treasury David Kennedy. He left in October to join Bill Cahill’s gubernatorial campaign staff.
In late 1969, Dowd was offered a job as a White House staff assistant under President Richard Nixon. He worked directly for Harry Dent, the White House Political Director, and for Leonard Garment, a top policy advisor.
Dowd returned to New Jersey in 1970 to run for Congress and was 26 at the time he entered the race. His target was Jim Howard, a three-term Democrat who had captured a Republican Monmouth County-based House seat in the Lyndon Johnson Democratic landside of 1964. Dowd brought energy and excitement to the race and held Howard to 55% in Nixon’s mid-term election.
In 1972, Dowd ran against Howard again and this time held Howard to a narrow 11,608 vote margin – 53%-47%. He was preparing to run again in 1974, but the Watergate scandal made his Dowd’s association with the Nixon White House – an advantage in his first two campaigns – into a negative. Instead, he finished law school.
He ran for the State Assembly in 1977 when Brian Kennedy gave up his seat to challenge Democratic State Sen. Herbert Buehler. He was the top vote-getter in the Republican primary, running on a ticket with freshman Assemblyman Doc Villane. The two easily beat Judy Wolfsberger to capture the GOP nomination.
In the general election, Dowd beat former Assemblywoman Gertrude Berman by 5,988 votes. He went to Trenton as a 33-year-old freshman Assemblyman. He was easily re-elected in 1979.
In 1981, Dowd backed Bo Sullivan, a self-funding businessman, in his bid for the Republican nomination for governor. In July of that year, Dowd announced that he was withdrawing his candidacy for re-election to a third term in the Assembly to concentrate on his law practice. He was succeeded by Ocean Township mayor Joseph Palaia.
He was elected Monmouth County Republican Chairman in 1986, after Frederick Kneisler resigned to join the Kean administration. He held that post until 2004, when Fred Niemann defeated him by a 467-107 vote.