Frank J. Guarini, Jr., who served as a congressman from a Hudson County district for fourteen years, celebrates his 98th birthday today.
The Jersey City Democrat is the oldest living former congressman from New Jersey, the oldest-living former statewide candidate, the oldest living former state senator, and the second-oldest living member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Guarini had spent most of his life around politics. His father had represented Hudson County in the State Assembly in 1931 and 1932. A Dartmouth graduate, Guarini was a decorated World War II combat veteran.
A 40-year-old attorney and the chairman of the America Red Cross’ Jersey City Chapter, Guarini decided to run for office in 1965 when reapportionment following the U.S. Supreme Court’s One Man, One Vote ruling increased Hudson County’s presence in the New Jersey State Senate from one seat to three.
Hudson County Democratic Chairman John V. Kenny and other party leaders picked Guarini and William V. Musto, an eleven-term assemblyman and the mayor of Union City, to run for State Senate on a slate with two-term incumbent William F. Kelly (D-Jersey City). Musto had been an automatic pick, but Guarini edged out Bayonne city attorney James Dugan.
The Democrats won the general election by over 100,000 votes.
During his first term, Democrats controlled the Senate and Guarini became chairman of the newly created Senate Air and Water Pollution and Public Health Committee.
Another round of reapportionment gave Hudson a fourth Senate seat in 1967, Kenny and the Hudson Democrats put Assemblyman Frederick Hauser (D-Hoboken), who had spent eighteen years in the lower house, on the ticket.
The four Democrats easily outdistanced their Republican rivals: Norman Roth, who had come within just 56 votes of winning a seat in Congress in 1956 against Rep. Alfred Sieminski (D-Jersey City); Cresenzi W. Castaldo, who had won 21% in a congressional bid in 1964; Eugene P. Kenny, who won 21% in his 1962 House campaign; and 31-year-old attorney Geoffrey Gualkin, who later served as the Hudson County Prosecutor and Superior Court Judge.
In his second term, Guarini championed the construction of a new stadium in the Meadowlands and was among the first to meet with New York Giants owner Wellington Mara to pitch New Jersey as a future NFL home.
U.S. Senate Bid
In 1970, Guarini decided to challenge two-term U.S. Senator Harrison A. Williams, Jr. in the Democratic primary. A decade before the Abscam scandal that ended his career, Williams had been censured by the New Jersey NAACP for showing up drunk at a meeting where he was the main speaker.
In late 1969, Williams had released endorsements from eighteen Democratic county chairmen. In a bid to prevent a primary fight from Guarini, some party leaders offered him the post of Senate Minority Leader – the incumbent, J. Edward Crabiel (D-Milltown) was willing to give up – but Guarini (and Kenny) refused.
Guarini, who had won two Democratic primaries for State Senate with the support of the Hudson County Democratic organization, made a bid for an open primary. He essentially sought to end New Jersey’s system of preferential ballot positions for organization-backed candidates more than fifty years ago, but without success.
He did that with the support of Kenny, the Hudson boss who had split from most of the state’s Democratic establishment when he refused to back former Gov. Robert Meyner’s bid for a third term against Rep. William Cahill (R-Collingswood). Cahill carried Hudson by fifteen percentage points.
Former New Jersey Attorney General Arthur Sills, who was supporting Guarini, attacked Williams for his alcoholism, a move that backfired after the Democratic Senator had acknowledged his drinking problem.
With just the Hudson organization line, Guarini lost to Williams by 90,647 votes, a 66%-34% race. Guarini carried only Hudson County – he scored a 16,194-vote plurality (62%-38%) – and Williams won everywhere else.
After the primary, Guarini refocused on local issues. He proposed the construction of a freeway that would have connected Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen to Route 80, sponsored legislation to change the legal voting age in New Jersey from 21 to 18, attempted to legalize Jai Alai, and tried to persuade the San Francisco Giants to New Jersey to move to New Jersey and play in a new baseball stadium he wanted built in the Meadowlands.
The lifelong bachelor was the only senator to vote against a bill to make it easier for New Jerseyans to get a divorce.
But in 1971, Guarini decided to eschew a bid for re-election to the State Senate. That happened when reapportionment reduced Hudson’s Senate delegation from four to three and Guarini became a redistricting casualty.
Hudson County lost a congressional seat in 1972, when a new district was created in Morris, Warren, Sussex and Hunterdon counties. Rep. Cornelius Gallagher (D-Bayonne), had been expected to keep the Hudson seat – party leaders were going to tell Rep. Dominick Daniels (D-Jersey City), who was 20 years older than Gallagher, to retire. Gallagher was indicted on tax evasion charges and the accusations against him came at a considerable cost.
The Hudson County Democratic Organization, in deep trouble. Kenny had gone to prison and reformer Paul Jordan was elected Mayor of Jersey City in 1971. Guarini was a fierce critic of Jordan.
For a short time, there was talk of dropping Daniels and Gallagher with Guarini becoming the compromise machine candidate against Jordan’s candidate, West New York Mayor Anthony DeFino. But they decided to stick with Daniels, who won the primary by a 51%-32% margin against DeFino. Gallagher came in third with just 15% of the vote, with 2% going to former Congressman Vincent Dellay, who had won the other Hudson House seat in 1956 as a Republican and later switched parties.
Guarini also explored taking on three-term Republican U.S. Senator Clifford Case in 1972, but party leaders settled on former Rep. Paul Krebs (D-Livingston) for a nomination not worth fighting for.
In late 1972, a list of potential gubernatorial candidates drawn up by Democratic State Chairman Salvatore Bontempo to take on Cahill the following year included Guarini, but he never made any moves to run.
Guarini supported State Sen. Ralph DeRose (D-South Orange) for governor in 1973. He signed on to help DeRose after the Hudson County Democratic Chairman, Francis Fitzpatrick, agreed to give the organization line to Superior Court Judge Brendan Byrne.
When Daniels retired in 1976, Hudson leaders agreed to give the seat to Assembly Speaker Joseph LeFante (D-Bayonne). Guarini sharply criticized the move to leave Jersey City without a congressman.
Return to public office
Smith won by a 54%-26% margin. The seismic shift in Jersey City politics in May caused Jordan to withdraw as a candidate for governor and led to the defeat of several incumbents in the June primary for State Senate and Assembly.
With support from Smith and Musto – and later from Bayonne Mayor Dennis Collins – Guarini was elected Hudson County Democratic Chairman, succeeding a Jordan ally, Bernard Hartnett.
In late 1977, Guarini began seeking party support to challenge Case in the 1978 U.S. Senate race. He joined a field that included former New York Knicks star Bill Bradley, State Treasurer Richard Leone, Rep. Andrew Maguire (D-Ridgewood), and former State Sen. Alexander Menza (D-Hillside).
Smith had indicated that he would support Guarini if he ran, but he was also feeling pressure from Byrne, who wanted the Hudson line to go to Leone. Guarini announced he would not run and suddenly became a leading candidate to serve as chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, then a hugely powerful post.
But instead, Guarini decided that the Hudson congressional seat should return to Jersey City and that LeFante would be a one-term congressman.
After LeFante left Congress, Byrne put him in his cabinet as Commissioner of Community Affairs.
Guarini won 82% of the vote in the Democratic House primary against two minor candidates, and 64% in the general election against Republican Henry Hill, a Kearny councilman.
As a freshman congressman, Guarini was assigned to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. He also served on the House Budget Committee.
During his fourteen years in Congress, Guarini became one of the House’s experts on international trade issues. He was part of the first U.S. trade mission to China, served as a delegate to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and sponsored the Caribbean Basin Initiative that created increased trade with Caribbean and Latin American nations.
Guarini played a major role in revising the Internal Revenue Code in 1986 and led efforst to modernize trade and tariff laws.
He also led the fight against the proposed Westway project in Manhattan, which sought to construct an above-water roadway adjacent to the West Side Highway. Guarini’s success helped protect New Jersey’s view of the New York skyline, something that helped pave the way for redevelopment in places like Jersey City and Hoboken.
In 1986, he defeated Albio Sires, then a West New York gadfly running as a Republican, with 71% of the vote. Sires is retiring this year after fourteen years in Congress as a Democrat.
Congressional redistricting in 1992 redrew Guarini’s district to include a substantial number of Hispanic voters in North Hudson that had previously been in a Bergen County-based district – and the addition of parts of Newark, Linden, Elizabeth, Woodbridge and Perth Amboy — Guarini declined to run for re-election rather than face a primary against State Sen. Bob Menendez (D-Union City). Menendez had been eyeing a run for Congress.
After leaving Congress, Guarini continued to practice law and became a highly successful real estate developer.
President Bill Clinton appointed him as U.S. Representative to the General Assembly of the United Nations, a post that carried the rank of Ambassador.
Guarini spearheaded a lawsuit against New York that led to the U.S. Supreme Court returning 90% of Ellis Island to New Jersey.
Jersey City’s main post office is the Congressman Frank Guarini Post Office, and other buildings bear his name: a library a New Jersey City University; the business school, Institute for Government and Leadership, and the college president’s residence at St. Peter’s University; John Cabot University’s Rome campus; and the Hudson County justice complex.
Only former Rep. Albert Quie, a Minnesota Republican, is older than Guarini. Quie will celebrate his 99th birthday net month. (Guarini and Quie never served together; Quie was elected governor in 1978.