Home>Campaigns>The time N.J. Republicans won the congressional map but lost the election

State Sen. Joseph Maraziti (R-Boonton) in 1968. Ace Alagna collection courtesy of the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center, Seton Hall University Libraries, South Orange.

The time N.J. Republicans won the congressional map but lost the election

A 1972 map drawn by a GOP senator for himself wound up giving Democrats a 12-3 majority in the N.J. delegation after Watergate

By David Wildstein, December 27 2021 2:07 pm

The clock on congressional redistricting in New Jersey for 1972 began in 1970 when Gov. William Cahill was trying to clear the field for GOP State Chairman Nelson Gross to run for the United States Senate.

Republicans thought they could beat two-term incumbent Harrison Williams with Gross, who had served as an assemblyman from Bergen County and had close ties to President Richard Nixon.  Standing in his way was State Sen. Joseph Maraziti (R-Boonton), a longtime Morris County legislator who wanted to run for the U.S. Senate.

Cahill and legislative leaders offered Maraziti a deal: in exchange for dropping his U.S. Senate bid, he would chair the committee that would redraw New Jersey’s fifteen congressional districts for the 1972 election.  Maraziti took the deal; Gross lost his race by twelve points.

Jersey style, Maraziti drew a district for himself.

Maraziti eliminated one of the two Hudson County congressional seats, putting Democrats Dominick Daniels (D-Jersey City) and Cornelius Gallagher (D-Bayonne) into a primary fight.

The new 13th district was hugely Republican.  It started East Hanover and went through northern Morris County, picked up all of Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren counties, and ended in northern Mercer.   In the 1968 presidential election, the towns in the new 13th had given Richard Nixon a 55%-36% win over Democrat Hubert Humphrey.

Not all Republicans were thrilled with the map.  Assembly Speaker Thomas H. Kean (R-Livingston) and State Sen. James H. Wallwork (R-Short Hills), both potential congressional candidates in the future, saw their hometowns put into a district that went through Morris and Somerset counties into Princeton.

The map went to federal court and a three-judge panel upheld it they tinkered with the plan by moving the boundary between two Bergen-based districts so that South Hackensack wasn’t split.

The new map put the entire city of Newark into the 10th, a move designed to make the 11th district seat of five-term Rep. Joseph Minish (D-West Orange) more competitive.  The candidate the map was draw for was former State Sen. Milton Waldor (R-South Orange), who had lost his Senate seat in 1971 by 908 votes to Essex County Freeholder Wynona M. Lipman.  (Lipman, who would later move from Montclair to Newark to survive 1973 legislative redistricting, became the first Black woman to serve in the New Jersey Senate and remained there until her death in 1999.)

Maraziti faced a primary challenge from two assemblymen, Walter Keough-Dwyer (R-Vernon) and Karl Weidel (D-Pennington), and Delmar Miller, Sr., a political newcomer from Ewing who ran under the slogan “Speaking for the Silent Majority.”   Maraziti won big: a 7,491 vote, 50%-25% victory over Keough-Dwyer, with Weidel finishing third with 17% and Miller getting 8%.

Three Morris County candidates sought the Democratic nomination: Joseph P. O’Doherty, Jerome Kessler and Norma Herzfeld.  O’Doherty won the nomination by 1,248 votes over Kessler, 43%-35%, with Herzfeld receiving 22%.  (Kessler and Herzfeld both won Democratic legislative primaries in 1977 but lost the general election.)

During the primary, Herzfeld filed a lawsuit challenging O’Doherty’s constitutional eligibility to run for Congress, alleging that the Irish-born Chester resident had not become a U.S. citizen until 1967.

O’Doherty dropped out of the race a week after the primary.

Democratic State Chairman Salvatore Bontempo convinced former New Jersey First Lady Helen Meyner to become the replacement candidate.  The wife of former Gov. Robert Meyner and the cousin of former Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, Meyner lived in Princeton but had a home in Phillipsburg, where her husband had served as a state senator.

In the general election, Maraziti defeated Meyner by 25,154 votes, 56%–43%.    Nixon carried the 13th by a 70%-40% margin over Democrat George McGovern.

Under a Republican-drawn map, Democrats won eight of the state’s 15 House seats, a net pickup of one.

Republicans held the open seat of retiring eight-term Rep. Florence Dwyer (R-Elizabeth), with State Sen. Matthew Rinaldo (R-Union) defeated former State Sen. Jerry Fitzgerald English by 27 points.

The closest an incumbent came to losing was in the Middlesex-based 15th when newcomer Fuller Brooks held five-term Rep. Edward Patten to a 52%-48% win.  Nixon won the district by 22 points.

In a Camden-Gloucester district, three-term Rep. John Hunt (R-Pitman) defeated 35-year-old Assemblyman Jim Florio (D-Runnemede) by a 52.5%-47% margin.   Nixon carried the 1st, 60%-40%.

Four much-heralded GOP challengers fell way short:  former Nixon White House aide Bill Dowd, making his second bid to unseat four-term Rep. James Howard (D-Spring Lake Heights), received 47% of the vote. Frank Thompson, Jr. (D-Trenton) won his 9th term by a 58%-42% margin against Assemblyman Peter Garibaldi (R-Monroe); Assemblyman Alfred Schiaffo (R-Closter) lost to four-term Rep. Henry Helstoski (D-East Rutherford), 56%-44%; and Minish beat Waldor 18 points.    Nixon carried all four of these districts by double-digit margins.

Daniels won the Hudson Democratic primary with 51% against West New York Mayor Anthony DeFino (32%), Gallagher (1%) and former Rep. Vincent Dellay (2%0.  He received 61% in the general election.

Republican Map Flips to 12-3 Democratic

Former New Jersey First Lady Helen Meyner campaigns for Conrgess in 1974. (Photo: Alice Paul Center).

Even though Republicans drew the new congressional map, the Watergate scandal resulted in the loss of four seats in the 1974 mid-term elections that came three months after Nixon resigned the presidency.

Florio ousted Hunt by 19 points, 57.5%-38.5% in the 1st district.  The GOP has never been able to win that seat back.

In the 2nd district, four-term Rep. Charles Sandman (R-Erma), the unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor in 1973, lost his seat to former Cape May County First Assistant Prosecutor William J. Hughes by 16 points.

Democrats flipped the Bergen County-based seat of 12-term Rep. William Widnall (R-Ridgewood) by five points.  The winner was Democrat Andrew Maguire, who had served in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Local newspapers aimed considerable coverage at Maraziti, whose seat on the House Judiciary Committee put him on national television as Nixon’s defender.  He voted against all three articles of impeachment.

Maraziti also became bogged down in a scandal as he faced a rematch with Meyner.

Meyner had to first win a Democratic primary.  She faced O’Doherty, who now met the citizenship requirement, former Hunterdon County Prosecutor Oscar Rittenhouse, and Fairleigh Dickinson University Professor Bernard Reiner.

Her 47% -26% win in the Democratic primary was unimpressive.  She defeated O’Doherty by just 3,801 votes, with Rittenhouse finishing third with 18% and Reiner at 9%.  Meyner won everywhere but Hunterdon, where Rittenhouse defeated her, 49%-36%.

Maraziti put his 35-year-old girlfriend, Linda Collinson, on his congressional payroll in a no-show job while she continued to work at Maraziti’s Morris County law firm.

Collinson was outed after she applied for a loan with the House Credit Union.  A staffer in Maraziti’s Washington office told the credit union that she had never heard of Collinson.

Reporters later discovered that Maraziti owned the house Collinson lived in.

Maraziti was also damaged by reports that a Warren County newspaper fired their managing editor, Donald Thatcher, after learning that he was also on Maraziti’s congressional payroll.  Later, news broke that Nicholas DiRienzo, the general manager of two New Jersey radio stations, was also on the congressman’s staff.

Meyner became one of the Watergate Babies, defeating Maraziti by a 57%-43% margin.  She carried Mercer with 65%, Warren with 61%, Hunterdon with 58%, Morris with 56%, and Sussex with 51%.

There was one open seat in 1974:  Rep. Peter Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) retired after 22 years in Congress.  Republican Millicent Fenwick (R-Bernardsville) defeated Kean by 83 votes in the GOP primary – a little more of Essex under the Maraziti map would have sent Kean to Congress. She won the general election by a 53%-43% margin against Fred Bohen, a former Johnson White House staffer.

GOP Gains

By the end of a map drawn by the GOP, Republicans had picked up just two of the seats they lost in Watergate, plus two more.  In a decade, the map went from 9-6 Democratic to 8-7 Democratic.  During the decade, six incumbents lost re-election.

In 1976, Republicans flipped the Bergen-Hudson 9th district seat after six-term incumbent Henry Helstoski became embroiled in a scandal.  The winner, by a 53%-44% margin, was former State Sen. Harold Hollenbeck (R-East Rutherford).

Meyner held the 13th seat by 5,241 votes, 50%-48%, in 1976 against former State Sen. William Schluter (R-Pennington).  President Gerald Ford had carried the district that year by a 50%-41% margin against Democrat Jimmy Carter.

But 1978, Carter’s mid-term election, Meyner lost.

After his close call, Schluter sought a rematch against Meyner in 1978.  This time, Schluter faced a strong primary opponent, Assistant Warren County Prosecutor Jim Courter.   Courter beat Schluter by just 134 votes in a campaign managed by Roger Bodman, who would go on to run Kean’s campaign for governor and later serve in his cabinet.  Courter unseated Meyner that year by a 52%-48% margin.

Ford had also carried the 7th, 58%-42%, but Maguire defeated Republican James Sheehan, a Wyckoff township committeeman, by 13 points to secure a second term.

The Republican challenger against Maguire in 1978 was Marge Roukema, a former Ridgewood school board member.

Roukema won the primary, 39%-32%, against a well-known name in the Republican primary: Joseph Woodcock (R-Cliffside Park), who served 12 years as an assemblyman and state senator, four years as the Bergen County prosecutor, and was briefly a candidate for the 1977 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Maguire won by six points but lost a 1980 rematch to Roukema

The Republicans also picked up the 4th district.  Thompson, a 26-year incumbent and the chairman of the House Administration Committee, was implicated in the FBI sting operation known as Abscam, when an undercover agent pretending to be an Arab sheik offered the congressman a cash bribe to help him circumvent federal immigration laws.

Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton) with his wife, Marie, and Hamilton Mayor Jack Rafferty in 1980. (Photo: Chris Smith for Congress).

Republican Christopher Smith was the 25-year-old executive director of New Jersey Right to Life when he challenged Thompson in 1978.  He lost by 24 points.

But with Thompson under indictment, Smith beat Thompson by 26,967 votes, a 47%-41% margin.  He’s held the seat for the last 41 years.

Hughes held the 2nd district seat in 1976 against the strongest possible Republican challenger, Assemblyman James Hurley (R-Millville).  He won 62%-38% in a district where Carter beat Ford by two points.

In the 15th district, Republicans nearly unseated Patten.

details began emerging about Patten’s involvement in the Koreagate scandal.  Lobbyist Tongsun Park was charged with using funds provided by the government of South Korea to bribe six congressmen as part of a bid to ensure that the United States kept their military presence there.

The allegation against Patten was that he solicited an illegal campaign contribution from Park, including funds that found their way into the account of the Middlesex County Democrats.  Patten allegedly took cash contributions from Park and then wrote personal checks to the county organization.

A 30-year-old Edison attorney, George Spadoro, challenged Patten in the Democratic primary and held him to 59% of the vote, a 6,323-vote plurality.  (Spadoro would later become the mayor of Edison and an assemblyman.)

Summer headlines on Koreagate dominated the summer news, as well as Patten’s testimony before the House Ethics Committee.  Patten steadfastly proclaimed his innocence.  In October, the Ethics panel voted unanimously to clear him of the charges.  And the Friday before the election, state Attorney General John Degnan announced that he had cleared Patten of any wrongdoing in Koreagate, which had become a state issue since some of the contributions had come to the county party organization.

Patten also faced allegations that he failed to disclose his assets as required by House rules.  Patten had filed a financial disclosure saying that he had no personal assets; he eventually announced that all his assets were in his wife’s name.

The scandal took its toll on Patten.  He won re-election, but just narrowly 48%–46%, with a plurality of only 2,836 votes, against Republican Charles Wiley, a conservative radio commentator from Sayreville.

New Jersey lost one congressional seat after the 1980 census.

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