Rep.-elect Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) was anti-establishment right out of the box, including a reported fight over climate change with New Jersey’s Frank Pallone, putting the new congresswoman in the national limelight during the House freshman orientation this week in Washington.
New Jerseyans over a certain age have seen this movie before, back in 1974 when controversial 40-year-old freshman State Sen. Alene Ammond (D-Cherry Hill), called “The Terror of Trenton” was kicked out of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Senate Democrats didn’t like her because she talked to the press too much, often revealing what Senators said in the closed-door caucus.
Ammond started out as part of an organization called the Cherry Hill League, a watchdog group that one local official referred to as a “nit-picking body.” Her partner in that group was Rose Marie Hospodor, who would someday become Pallone’s mother-in-law. In 1967, Ammond ran for Cherry Hill councilwoman and finished 11th in a field of 12 candidates.
In 1973, two factions of the Camden County Democrats were at war. Cherry Hill Democratic Municipal Chairman Jack Gasparre was preparing to challenge County Chairman James Joyce, and both put up opposing slates in the June primary. Camden Mayor Angelo Errichetti was part of the Gasparre faction.
Joyce backed Ammond for State Senate, while Gasparre’s candidate was 33-year-old Jack Jehl, a former assistant Camden County prosecutor who was then the Voorhees solicitor.
The Republican incumbent, John Miller (R-Cherry Hill), was seeking his third term in the State Senate. The newly-drawn 6th district appeared solidly Republican in the early in those days; it included suburban Camden County towns, as well as Evesham and Palmyra in Burlington County. Noteworthy is that the incumbent Governor, William Cahill, and former Gov. Alfred Driscoll both lived in the 6th.
Still, Miller had his own political problems. His running mate, Assemblyman William Dickey, a former Assembly Speaker, had tried to dump Miller and get the Senate nomination for himself.
Ammond defeated Jehl by 504 votes, 53%-47%. Her two Assembly running mates, Mary Keating Croce, the sister of the county clerk, and 28-year-old Jack Gallagher, also won the primary – Gallagher by 286 votes.
The general election came not long after the Saturday Night Massacre, when Richard Nixon fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. 1973 was a blowout year for Democrats, winning 30 Senate seats and 66 Assembly seats.
Ammond beat Miller by 3,248 votes, 53%-47%. Keating Croce and Gallagher ousted Dickey and incumbent Eugene Raymond.
Just a few weeks after joining the Senate, Ammond had already gone off the reservation. She charged Senate President Frank Dodd had a personal conflict of interest in the creation of an energy study commission because he wanted to skew the results.
Ammond got into a fight with Joyce over fundraising. The county chairman brought in U.S. Senator Henry Jackson and Gov. Brendan Byrne for a fundraising to pay off Ammond’s campaign debts. By February, Ammond had accused Joyce of trying to pocket the money and asked that all proceeds go to her campaign directly
The deal, Joyce said at the time, is that she would sell 200 tickets for $50 each. He said that Ammond barely sold any, and the ones she did sell were at cost ($16). He refused to give her any money.
Ammond also took issue with a fundraising letter Joyce sent out saying that he secured a seat for her on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
By March, she was in the middle of a probe by Camden County Prosecutor Thomas Shusted over petitions field by her Cherry Hill change of government petition she backed in 1972.
When Camden Democrats wanted freeholder Thomas Higgins to replace Shusted as county prosecutor, Ammond used her senatorial courtesy to block him. She also blocked Democratic appointments to the Delaware River Port Authority. Ammond called on the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) to investigate the deal Joyce made to get Higgins named prosecutor. Higgins wound up withdrawing.
She tried to open the caucus to the press.
By January 1975, Senate Democrats had enough. Ammond was barred from attended the Democratic caucus. They stripped her of her senatorial courtesy. She was removed from the Judiciary Committee. And they launched an internal probe into her conduct as a senator.
Dodd said that all Ammond did was try to grab headlines. She said the senator were retaliating against her because she was a reformer. Ammond said that she felt physically threatened by State Sen. William Vincent Musto (D-Union City)
Ammond got a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order that prevented the Senate Democrats from locking her out of the caucus. The judge, Mitchell Cohen, said that excluding her from the caucus was essentially the same as not allowing an elected senator to vote.
By February, the Senate backed down and let Ammond back in. They even let members of the press sit in from time to time.
But Ammond continued to seek media attention. Sometime in the spring of 1975, she held a press conference to say that someone was tampering with her mail.
Ammond filed her own slate of candidates for Cherry Hill council against the incumbents supported by Gasparre. The ticket, a hybrid of Republicans and Ammond Democrats, knocked out the entire council in a June 1975 runoff.
By 1976, Ammond had forged an alliance with Gasparre, who was still trying to take out Joyce as county chairman. Gasparre and Errichetti backed Camden County Clerk Michael Keating, who beat Joyce narrowly.
Slowly, Ammond became less aggressive. She was an ally of Senate President Matthew Feldman and became less publicly critical of her Senate colleagues. She had a second term in mind.
In March 1977, Gallagher announced that he would challenge Ammond in the Democratic primary. Republicans were set to run 30-year-old lawyer William Cahill, Jr., the son of the former governor.
Ammond’s political future was complicated by Byrne’s re-election campaign. Rep. Jim Florio decided to challenge the governor in the Democratic primary and had the support of the Camden Democratic organization.
Ammond endorsed Byrne.
Keating decided to run himself and moved from Haddon Township in the 5th district to Cherry Hill. Gallagher dropped out just after the filing deadline.
Ammond challenged Keating in court, saying he did not meet the residency requirement to run for the Senate. A Superior Court Judge and the appellate court agreed, and Keating was dropped.
In May, Camden County Democrats replaced Keating on the ballot with Victor Pachter, a former Cherry Hill councilman.
Despite the short campaign, Pachter beat Ammond by 533 votes, 47%-43%, with 11% for Michael Ianetta, a former Camden County purchasing agent.
The Republican side took an interesting turn. A few party leaders got cold feet about running Cahill and went with Addison Bradley, the president of the county parks commission. Bradley got caught up in allegations that he used his county post to help a private land deal, so the GOP dumped him.
Dickey and Cherry Hill Mayor John Rocco sought party support, but the nomination went to Camden County Republican Chairman Lee Laskin, a former assemblyman and freeholder. Laskin defeated Pachter by 2,374 votes, 52%-48%.
The Terror of Trenton left office in January 1978 and never returned to public office,
Ammond tried to run for Congress against Republican incumbent Edwin Forsythe in 1980 but finished third in the Democratic primary with 31% against Lewis Weinstein (37%) and Bruce MacNaul (32%).
At some point in the 1980’s, while Ronald Reagan was still president, Ammond tried to conduct her own peace negotiations with the Soviet Union. That didn’t go very far.
In 1993, Ammond became an independent candidate for governor against Florio and Christie Todd Whitman. She finished 8th in a field of 14 candidates, receiving 3,300 votes statewide (.13%).
Finally, in 2002, Ammond turned up as the Republican candidate for mayor of Cherry Hill. She won 30% of the vote against mayor Bernard Platt.