It should come as no surprise to New Jerseyans that the greatest party switching story comes out of Hudson County.
In 1954, ten-term Rep. Edward Hart (D-Jersey City) gave up his congressional seat so that he could get an appointment to what is now known as the Board of Public Utilities. Hart had watched his percentage drop to 51.%5 in 1952 and after twenty years in the House, he was ready to go.
Democrats – which means John V. Kenny, back in a time when the Mayor of Jersey City influenced politics in Hudson County – nominated James Tumulty, a 41-year-old former Assembly minority leader whose uncle was Woodrow Wilson’s chief of staff – the job was called secretary in those days – in the governor’s office and in the White House.
The Republicans ran Vincent Dellay, a 47-year-old auditor in the state treasurer’s office.
Tumulty beat Dellay by 25,584 votes, 62%-35%.
Two years later, with popular President Dwight Eisenhower heading the Republican ticket, Dellay sought a rematch against Tumulty.
This time Dellay won, upsetting Tumulty by 7,887 votes, 52%-46%.
Dellay filed an affidavit with the New Jersey Secretary of State saying he spent nothing to win the House seat. Tumulty reported spending $1,017. To put that in some perspective of the times, Assemblywoman Florence Dwyer (R-Elizabeth) reported spending $9,950 to oust two-term incumbent Rep. Harrison Williams (D-Plainfield); Williams spent $6,943.
Another Jersey City Republican, Norman Roth, came within 57 votes of winning the other Hudson County congressional seat against incumbent Rep. Alfred Sieminski (D-Jersey City). Roth died believing Hudson County Democrats stole the race from him.
Dellay became the first Republican congressman from Hudson County since Archibald Olpp won on Warren Harding’s coattails in 1920 and then lost the seat two years later.
Tumulty went home to New Jersey with a lot of post-election anger. He later filed a complaint with the Justice Department alleging that Democrats raised $100,000 for Adlai Stevenson and the Democratic congressional candidates, but that Kenny diverted the money to his local organization. Tumulty says he only got $800.
Within one week of taking office, Dellay had already run afoul the of Hudson County Republican Chairman John Theurer, who called him “the biggest ingrate I have ever known” because only one Hudson Republican got a job in the new congressman’s office.
“Dellay not only won’t be on the next congressional ticket, but his name won’t even be mentioned,” Theurer told the Associated Press. “I’m sorry he is a Republican. He has never consulted with the organization at any time since his election.”
Theurer said Dellay had instead hired his daughter and his sister to serve on his staff.
“That daughter couldn’t even vote for him. She lives out of his district,” the county chairman said.
The new congressman wasn’t going to take any crap from the Hudson County Republicans, channeled his inner Phil Murphy by saying that “the Republican organization gave me the nomination – period. I received no specific help.”
Dellay defended the hiring of his sister.
“She is giving up a job as secretary to an express company executive at a much higher salary,” he said.
In the fall of 1957, Dellay endorsed Democratic Gov. Robert Meyner for re-election.
A few days before Christmas, Dellay announced that he was switching parties and would return to Washington in January 1958 as a Democratic congressman.
He said he would seek re-election as a Democrat.
Speaker Sam Rayburn welcomed the newest member of the Democratic caucus, but back at home, Hudson County Democrats weren’t all that interested.
Democrats endorsed Dominick Daniels, a 50-year-old Jersey City municipal court judge, as their candidate for Congress.
Dellay announced that he would seek re-election as an independent rather than challenge the Hudson County Democratic organization in the primary.
In September, he dropped out of the race entirely. This time Kenny didn’t take the race for granted and Daniels beat Republican Frank Musto with 63% of the vote. Still on the ballot, Dellay got 823 votes.
Dellay returned to his old job as a field auditor for the New Jersey Treasury Department, retiring in 1971. He remained a Democrat.
In 1972, Dellay ran for Congress again after redistricting merged the two Hudson County districts.
Daniels won the race by 12,662 votes, 51%-32% against West New York Mayor Anthony DeFino. The other incumbent congressman, Cornelius Gallagher (D-Bayonne) finished third with 15%.
Dellay came in fourth, with 1,1994 votes – just under 2%.