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Son of former Speaker dies

Witnessed the Battle of the Billionaires

By David Wildstein, September 24 2018 10:00 am

Another witness to New Jersey political history has passed: John Hess, whose father served as the Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly in 1945, died over the summer.

Freas Hess was a supporting player in the Battle of the Billionaires, one of New Jersey’s all-time best State Senate races.

A Johns-Manville employee and World War I veteran, Hess was elected councilman in Somerville in 1929, at age 34, and became Mayor four years later.  He was elected to the State Assembly in 1938 and served as Majority Leader in 1944 and Speaker in 1945.

Hess moved up to the State Senate in 1947 but lost his bid for re-election to a second term in 1951 when he was defeated by magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes.  Running off the line in a self-financed race, Forces beat Hess by 3,923 votes, 62%-38%.

The Battle of the Billionaires occurred in 1955 when Forces was challenged by industrialist Charles Engelhard.  Forbes had sought the GOP nomination for Governor in 1953 and Democrats were trying to derail a free-spending challenge to incumbent Robert Meyner in 1957.  Records weren’t kept of campaign spending in those days but adjusted to inflation might have been the most expensive state legislative race in New Jersey history.  Forbes won it after a recount by 370 votes, 19,981 to 19,611.

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