Home>Highlight>He was governor of N.J. for 84 hours, and now he’s in line for a town administrator job

Former Gov. John O. Bennett III, center, who spent 84 hours as the governor of New Jersey in January 2002, with former Gov. Richard Codey, right, and former Gov. Jim Florio, left. (Photo: Facebook).

He was governor of N.J. for 84 hours, and now he’s in line for a town administrator job

John O. Bennett III, the former Co-Senate President, is up for interim post in Dover

By David Wildstein, September 05 2020 10:31 am

John O. Bennett III, a former Co-President of the New Jersey State Senate and the Acting Governor of New Jersey for 84 hours in 2002, is up for a new job as the interim town administrator in Dover.

The appointment of Bennett is on agenda for the council meeting for September 8.  If the 72-year-old white Monmouth County Republican is approved, he would be running a Morris County municipality that is 69.6% Hispanic working for Mayor Carolyn Blackman, a Black woman who was elected in 2019.

Blackman’s first pick for the post, Carlos Sanchez, is gone after less than eight months on the job.  He’s now  the director of economic development for Union Township.  

Bennett has been unemployed since January, when he was let go from his post as the business administrator in Woodbridge. 

Bennett had held the Woodbridge job for 26 months.  Officially, Woodbridge officials said Bennett left on his own accord, although that won’t be entirely accurate.

He was also the Oceanport administrator before being asked to leave.  

Mayor John McCormac has picked Vito Cimilluca as the new administrator.

Once one of New Jersey’s most powerful politicians, Bennett had served a decade in the State Assembly before winning a 1989 special election for State Senate.  He served as Senate Majority Leader from 1994 to 2002.

After Democrats and Republicans each won 20 seats in the 2001 general election, Bennett and Richard Codey (D-Roseland) became the co-Senate Presidents.

Donald DiFrancesco, who became governor after Christine Todd Whitman resigned to join George W. Bush’s cabinet in early 2001, did not seek re-election to the State Senate that year.  His term as a legislator ended at noon on January 8, 2002 and since he was no longer Senate President, he was no longer governor.

Bennett and Codey agreed that each would serve 3 ½ days as acting governor before James E. McGreevey took office on January 15.

The 84-hour Bennett administration was full of hoopla and fanfare.

He moved into Drumthwacket, printed letterhead, and had pens made that said “John O. Bennett III, Acting Governor” to use when he signed his name to official documents.  He delivered the State of the State address to the Legislature, hosted an engagement party for his daughter at the governor’s mansion, and issued daily schedules for himself and his wife, the Acting First Lady.

He even pardoned an old friend and campaign contributor.

The definitive historical account of the Bennett governorship was written by the New York Times’ David Kocieniewski, who said Bennett carried himself “with the measured exuberance of a high school yearbook advisor” and said that John and Peggy Bennett “toured New Jersey like a conquering Caesar visiting the provinces.”

After his 84-hour term ended, Bennett returned to the Senate.

He got himself in a little trouble – political, ultimately not legal — over billing practices at his law firm.

Throughout the 2003 campaign, Bennett faced a seemingly daily barrage of media attention – mostly from the local Asbury Park Press newspaper – attacking Bennett’s ethics and allegations that he over-billed municipalities that he represented as an attorney.

Held to 59% in the Republican primary, Bennett then lost the general election to Democrat Ellen Karcher by 4,574 votes.  His 42.5% of the vote reflected a drop of 16 percentage points from his 2001 total.

Bennett became the first sitting Senate President to lose his own seat in at least 100 years.

He later won a seat on the Republican State Committee and had a short tenure as the Monmouth County Republican Chairman.

Bennett was hired as the Oceanport administrator in 2014, where he also doubled as public works director while still serving as a municipal attorney for Colts Neck and Keansburg.

At the end of 2015, Bennett announced his retirement, although the reality is that he was ousted from that post.

Following his retirement, Bennett took a job as the part-time administrator in Lavallette.

Bennett, who likes to be called ‘governor,’ regularly sits on panels of former governors at the New Jersey League of Municipalities Convention every November.He also enjoys sitting with the other former governors at the annual State of the State message to a joint session of the New Jersey Legislature.

He did not attend Gov. Phil Murphy’s outdoor budget address at Rutgers University last month.

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