Newark Republican Richard Wayne Parker ran for Congress seventeen times between 1892 and 1922, going 12-5 during three non-consecutive stints in the U.S. House of Representatives that included defeating two different incumbents.
Parker began his political career in 1884, at age 36, when he won a State Assembly seat in a Newark-based district. He was re-elected in 1885, back in an era when assemblymen were elected for one-year terms.
He made his first run for Congress in 1892, taking on two-term Rep. Thomas Dunn English (D-Newark) and losing by 1,367 votes, a 51%-48% margin. Parker ran against English again in 1894 – that was the second mid-term election of Caldwell-born President Grover Cleveland – and beat him by 21 percentage points, 58%-37%, a margin of 8,473.
Over the next sixteen years, Parker was re-elected, sometimes in close races. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt’s mid-term, he held his seat by a mere 510 votes against Dr. Charles Kraemer, a Democrat who attracted considerable attention when he toured the Essex congressional district in an automobile.
In 1909, Parker became chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
But Democratic gubernatorial candidate Woodrow Wilson carrying Essex County with 59% of the vote in 1910, Parker lost his bid for re-election to a ninth term by 4,206 votes, 53%-43%, against Democrat Edward Townsend, a former newspaper reporter from Montclair who became the author of the popular Chimmie Fadden book series about boys from the Bowery.
After congressional redistricting in 1912, Parker sought a political comeback against Rep. Walter McCoy, a former South Orange Village Trustee who had ousted three-term Rep. William Wiley (R-East Orange) two years earlier. With Republicans split between President William Howard Taft and Roosevelt, McCoy won a second term by a 42.4% to 26.6% margin against Herman Walker, a former Washington correspondent for the Newark News who was running with Roosevelt as the progressive Bull Moose Party candidate. Parker finished third with 24.2%, 585 votes behind Walker.
(Wilson carried New Jersey in the 1912 presidential election, but Roosevelt carried Essex County by a 41.7% to 32.6% margin.)
Parker mounted a second bid to unseat McCoy in 1914, but one week after the September primary election, Wilson nominated him to serve as a federal judge for the District of Columbia.
A special convention of Essex Democrats to pick a replacement congressional candidate for McCoy turned out to be a disaster. Due to filing irregularities and unclear New Jersey election laws, Democrats wound up with two candidates on the ballot: East Orange Mayor Julian Gregory and Orange Mayor Arthur Seymour.
That allowed Parker to return to Congress with 37.3% of the vote. He ran 1,413 votes ahead of Gregory (31.7%) and 3,810 ahead of Seymour (22.3%).
In a December special election to fill the remaining three months of McCoy’s term – new members of the U.S. House of Representatives took office in March in those days – Parker defeated Seymour by 497 votes, 50%-45%.
Parker won again in 1916, this time by just 836 votes, 47.6% to 44.8%, against John A. Matthews, a 34-year-old former assemblyman from Newark. He held on despite Republican Charles Evans Hughes carrying Essex County by 21 percentage points against Woodrow Wilson in the 1916 presidential election.
But time seemed to run out on Parker again in the 1918 mid-term elections. Orange Mayor Daniel F. Minahan ousted Parker by 1,658 votes, 50.4% to 42.8%.
Now 72-years-old, Parker refused to walk away. He challenged Minahan in 1920, and on the strength of Warren Harding’s 71% of the vote in Essex County – Republicans won 59 of 60 seats in the State Assembly that year – Parker unseated Minahan by 11,996 votes, 59%-37%.
Parker and Minahan faced off in a third consecutive congressional race in 1922. This time, Minahan won; he beat Parker by 2,094 votes, 52.6% to 47.4%.
That would be the last House race for Parker, who moved to West Orange after the election and died while visiting Paris in late 1923.
Minahan’s congressional career came one year later when Franklin Fort, an East Orange Republican, beat him by nearly 23 percentage points in 1924.
Fort was re-elected twice by comfortable margins; when he gave up his House seat in 1930 to seek the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate – Ambassador Dwight Morrow, the father-in-law of aviator Charles Lindbergh won the primary – Minahan sought a political comeback. He lost to Republican Peter Cavicchia (R-Newark), the Essex County Supervisor of Inheritance Taxes, by 3,815 votes, 54%-45%.
Parker came from a political family; his grandfather, James Parker, was a longtime assemblyman from Middlesex County and mayor of Perth Amboy who was elected to Congress in 1832 and 1834.