If William B. Sampson IV can find Trenton by noon on Tuesday, he will already have exceeded expectations.
Not since Patrick Pasculli (D-Bayonne) graced the halls of the statehouse in the late 1970s and sponsored a bill on his first day to get state legislators free tolls on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike has the bar been set quite so low for an incoming legislator.
The 33-year-old crane operator and International Longshoremen’s Union member will take office today as the new assemblyman from the 31st district, representing Bayonne and part of Jersey City. He will replace Assembly Majority Whip Nicholas Chiaravalloti, who did not seek re-election to a fourth term after losing the backing of his onetime ally, Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis.
Davis has still not explained why he refused to back Chiaravalloti, his onetime ally. But the rule in Hudson County is the mayor of Bayonne gets to pick the assemblymen, so when Davis inexplicably decided he wanted Sampson, the Democratic machine went along.
Sampson had never voted in a Democratic primary and has a mother who answers his cell phone. He kept his head down during the general election and won by a 3-1 margin. Bayonne hasn’t backed a Republican Assembly candidate since 24-year-old Albert Stephens (R-Bayonne) won in the 1920 Warren Harding landslide. In the days when the Assembly was elected to one-year terns, Stephens was out of office after just 12 months.
The lineage of the Bayonne Assembly seat
Chiaravalloti arrived in the Assembly the same way Sampson did. After Davis unseated Mayor Mark Smith in 2014, he chose Chiaravalloti to replace Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-Bayonne).
O’Donnell went to Trenton in a 2010 special election as Davis’ pick after Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone (D-Bayonne) resigned. Chiappone had been charged with diverting legislative staff payroll checks t himself and his campaign in 2009 and remained in office until accepting a plea deal ten months later.
Chiappone was an unlikely winner in a 2003 Democratic primary that featured a State Senate primary between Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham and the Hudson Democratic organization candidate, Jersey City Council President L. Harvey Smith. Cunningham ran with Chiappone and former Freeholder Louis Manzo (D-Jersey City). On the coattails of Cunningham’ 2,088-vote victory over Smith, Chiappone and Manzo narrowly defeated incumbents Joseph Doria (D-Bayonne) and Elba Perez-Cinciarelli (D-Jersey City) in the Democratic primary.
Doria was elected to the Assembly in 1979 after Democrats dropped Pasculli from the Bayonne seat.
Pasculli and Charles Mays, Sr. (D-Jersey City), a former U.S. Olympic long-jumper, were elected after one of the great Hudson County Democratic primaries.
In 1977, two-term State Sen. James P. Dugan (D-Bayonne), the sitting New Jersey Democratic State Chairman, found himself in a political war with Gov. Brendan Byrne, and more importantly, Bayonne Mayor Dennis Collins.
Byrne faced ten challengers when he sought renomination in the Democratic primary. One of them, Jersey City Mayor Paul Jordan, watched his campaign go under in May when his hand-pocked mayoral successor, Bill Macchi, lost to Thomas F.X. Smith.
In the June 1977 Democratic 31st district Senate primary, Walter Sheil, a professor at Jersey City State College and an ally of Smith, won 49% of the vote to win the nomination. Bayonne High School football coach Donald X. Ahern, a local legend who was backed by Collins, received 29%, and Dugan finished third with 20% of the vote, 8,328 votes behind Sheil. A fourth candidate, Frank Gorman, received 2%.
Pasculli and Mays were on a line with Sheil. They defeated Frank Perrucci, the president of the Laborers’ International Union Local 102 and a top Collins ally by 2,941 votes. Jersey City Councilman Morris Pesin, who ran on Dugan’s ticket, finished fifth. Three-term Assemblyman William O. Perkins (D-Jersey City), who ran with Dugan, finished seventh, behind John Alston Sr. and ahead of colorful Bayonne raconteur James M. “JimJim” Deveney.
From 1970 to 1977, the Bayonne Assembly seat was held by Joseph A. LeFante, who was serving as the Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1976 following the retirement of Rep. Dominick Daniels (D-Jersey City).
LeFante and Dugan were running mates when they won a newly-drawn Hudson County Assembly district in 1969.