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Sherrill backer Barbara Curran was first woman NJ GOP executive director

Won Assembly seat in 1973, one of 14 Republicans in NJ to avoid Watergate landslide

By David Wildstein, October 30 2018 6:37 pm

A primer on former Assemblywoman Barbara Curran, a Republican who endorsed Democrat Mikie Sherrill for Congress in New Jersey’s 11th district.

Curran became involved in politics working on Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign and managed former Senate President Frank McDermott’s 1969 campaign for the Republican nomination for governor.  She served as an assistant to Republican State Chairman Nelson Gross during William Cahill’s successful bid for governor in 1969.  Before that, she worked as an editor of the Rahway News Record and the Clark Patriot.

In 1971, at age 30, GOP State Chairman John Dimon named Curran as the executive director of the New Jersey Republican State Committee.  She was the first woman to hold that post.  In 1972, she became the executive director of the New Jersey Committee to Re-elect the President.

After a new legislative map was drawn for the 1973 elections, Curran became a candidate for Assembly in the new 24th district, which started in Summit and extended through eastern Morris County and into part of western Passaic County.  The district had three incumbents: State Sen. Peter Thomas (R-Chatham) and Assemblyman James Vreeland (R-Montville), both Republicans, and Assemblyman John Sinsimer (D-Pompton Lakes), a Passaic County Democrat who had been redistricted into the new 24th.

With the endorsement of the Union County Republicans, and the Morris GOP going lineless, Curran won the primary by 2,258 votes against John Kroeger, a Parsippany school board member.  The top vote-getter was Vreeland, who had won the seat in 1971 after his brother, Everett Vreeland, passed away.  Edward Ambry, a Montclair State University professor, ran a distant fourth.

In September, Cahill, a lame-duck after losing renomination in the Republican primary, nominated Thomas to a Superior Court judgeship.  Republicans made Vreeland their Senate candidate and picked Ralph Ferrara, the Kinnelon Board of Education president, to run with Curran for Assembly.

Democrats had a wave election in Morris County in 1973, in an election that came two weeks after Nixon fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.  Brendan Byrne carried Morris by 32,000 votes, with Democrats winning a Senate seat and two Assembly seats in the adjoining 23rd district, and electing Douglas Romaine as a Morris County freeholder.

The 24th district was tougher for the Democrats.  Vreeland eked out a 2,587 win (53%-47%) against John Keefe, a teacher from Summit.

Sinsimer was the top vote-getter in the Assembly race, running 70 votes ahead of Curran, the winner of the second seat.  Curran defeated Democrat Charles Kennedy, the Parsippany tax collector, by just 203 votes.  Ferrara ran 399 votes behind Kennedy.  She became one of just fourteen Republicans in the State Assembly after the Watergate landslide obliterated her party.

Seeking a second term in 1975, Curran won re-election by 8,960 votes.  Her running mate, Morris County Freeholder Dean Gallo, unseated Sinsimer by 6,605 votes.  Democrat Paul Bontempo, who later became a prominent Trenton lobbyist, was Sinsimer’s running mate.  Curran and Gallo easily won a 1977 rematch against Sinsimer, by a 2-1 margin.

In June 1980, Curran resigned from the Assembly when Byrne appointed her to a Republican seat on the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.  After Thomas Kean became governor in 1982, Curran joined his cabinet as BPU president. Morris County Freeholder Leanna Brown (R-Chatham) succeeded Curran in the Assembly, and Somerset County Freeholder Christine Todd Whitman replaced her in the cabinet when she resigned to take a job with a Wall Street firm.

Curran later worked Byrne’s law firm until Gov. Jim Florio nominated her as a Superior Court Judge in 1992.

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