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Assemblyman Ralph Caputo. (Photo: Assembly Majority Office).

Caputo will leave State Assembly to take Horizon board seat

82-year-old Essex lawmaker was first elected to the Assembly as a Republican in 1967

By David Wildstein, February 21 2023 5:41 pm

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley), who has served in the legislature during the presidencies of Lyndon B. Johnson and Joseph Biden, will not seek re-election this year and instead is expected to resign his seat to join the board of directors of Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the New Jersey Globe has confirmed from two sources with direct knowledge over Caputo’s plans.

Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to nominate Caputo to replace Paul Juliano, who is stepping down to become the president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.   Caputo will leave the legislature upon his confirmation by the State Senate to the $82,000-a-year post.

Democrats in the old 28th district will hold a special election to fill the remainder of Caputo’s term, which expires on January 9, 2024.  Caputo’s hometown of Nutley was moved into the 34th district under a new map approved last year.

It’s not immediately clear if Caputo’s successor will be one of the candidates seeking a full-term or a caretaker legislator.  The old 28th includes Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Irvington, Nutley, and part of Newark; the new 34th has East Orange, Orange, Belleville, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, and Nutley.

During a political career that has spanned 56 years, Caputo has defeated four incumbents in primaries and one in a general election.    He joined the State Assembly six years before former Gov. Richard Codey (D-Roseland), now in his 50th year in the legislature.

The 82-year-old Caputo was first elected to the State Assembly in 1967 as a Republican from Newark’s North Ward.   He was the top vote-getter in the old Essex District 11-C, running 4,591 votes ahead of freshman Assemblyman Armand E. Lembo, Sr. (D-Newark), and 4,964 vote in front of another first-term lawmaker, Joseph Biancardi (D-Belleville).

At age 26, he was the youngest member of the New Jersey Legislature.

He was re-elected in 1969, defeating Nutley Commissioner Carmen Orechio and his Democratic running mate, Joseph Iannuzzi (a future freeholder), by roughly 6,000 votes.   But in 1971, Orechio’s brother, Carl Orechio (R-Nutley), defeated him in the Republican primary by 5,553 votes.

He sought a State Assembly seat in 1973 when Republican incumbent Philip Kaltenbacher (R-Short Hills) withdrew from the race in August. Still, the nomination went to former Essex County GOP Vice Chair Jane Burgio (R-North Caldwell).  He lost a bid for a seat on the Essex County Charter Study Commission in 1974 and briefly served as the Essex County Superintendent of Schools.

Assemblymen Ralph Caputo (R-Newark) and Thomas Kean (R-Livingston) in Trenton around 1968. Ace Alagna collection courtesy of the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center, Seton Hall University Libraries, South Orange.

Caputo switched parties in the late 1970s and briefly sought the Democratic nomination for Essex County Executive in 1978.  He lost a primary challenge to County Executive Peter Shapiro in 1982, finishing third with 14% of the vote.

He resuscitated his political career in 2002 when he ran as a Democrat for Essex County Freeholder in the 5th district and unseated incumbent Joseph Scarpelli  (R-Nutley) by a 54%-46% margin.    He won 67% when he ran for re-election in 2005.

After an absence of 36 years, Caputo returned to the State Assembly in 2007.  Teaming up with Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark), the widow of former Assemblyman and Newark Councilman Donald Tucker, they defeated incumbents Craig Stanley (D-Irvington) and Oadline Truitt (D-Newark) in the Democratic primary.

Caputo ran first with 6,092 votes, followed by Tucker at 5,942.  Stanley finished 127 votes behind Tucker and 350 votes ahead of Truitt; Caputo’s margin over Truitt was 627.

Since then, Caputo has coasted to re-election seven times.

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