Assemblyman Donald Tucker died 22 days before the 2005 general election and still won re-election in a landslide.
Tucker, who had also been a Newark City Councilman for 31 years, passed away on October 17, 2005. He represented the heavily Democratic 28th district, and his name remained on the ballot for the November 8 general election. Republicans made no effort to remove his name from the ballot.
He was re-elected posthumously to a seventh term, running 140 votes ahead of his running mate, Craig Stanley. Tucker beat Republicans Ana Pizutelli and Barbara Dennis by more than 20,000 votes – not a bad showing for a deceased candidate.
Essex County Democrats needed to hold two separate special election conventions: one to fill the remaining three months of Tucker’s term, and another in January to pick a replacement until a November 2006 special election for the remaining fourteen months of the term her had won after he passed away.
Campaigning for the Assembly seat began before Tucker’s funeral service. Among the names mentioned: former Assemblymen William Payne and Wilfredo Caraballo; Freeholder Blonnie Watson; and Cleopatra Tucker, the late assemblyman’s widow.
Democrats wound up picking Evelyn Williams, a former Newark school board member and vice chair of the Essex County Democratic Committee. She was sworn in as an assemblywoman on December 12, 2005.
Williams lasted only seven days in the Assembly before her arrest on shoplifting charges; she was accused of stealing a comforter from the Variety Fair in Irvington.
Two days later, the Essex County Corrections Department fired her after discovering that she filed for and received illegal pension checks from the state.
That wasn’t Williams’ first controversy: she was president of the Newark Board of Education when the state took over the school system in the 1980’s; and in 2002, she was reprimanded while working for the county jail for escorting a member of a major drug ring to a concert.
To replace Williams, Democrats then picked Oadline Truitt, a 65-year-old school librarian and a 30-year Democratic County Committeewoman from Newark’s South Ward.
Truitt won the unexpired term in 2006 but lost her seat in the 2007 Democratic primary. Freeholder Ralph Caputo, who had been a Republican assemblyman in the 1960’s, staged a Trenton comeback and ran with Cleopatra Tucker. Caputo was the top vote-getter, and Tucker beat Stanley by 127 votes. Truitt ran fourth, finishing 350 votes behind Stanley.
For extreme political junkies: the Newark City Council At-Large seat Tucker held from 1974 to 2005 was filled by Ras Baraka.