Gov. Phil Murphy has ordered the New Jersey flags to be flown at half-staff on Friday in memory of former State Sen. C. Robert Sarcone (R-Newark).
Sarcone, a former Assembly minority leader and candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, died on January 12. He was 94.
“Senator Sarcone led a life of service, distinction, and honor,” Murphy said. “A proud Navy veteran who served during World War II, Senator Sarcone went on to be elected to the Assembly and Senate, fighting for all New Jerseyans. Tammy and I extend our sincere condolences to his wife Jeanette, his daughter Yvonne, and his family and friends.”
Murphy regularly issues an executive order to fly flags at half-staff when a former legislative leader dies, although other lawmakers have been added to the list.
A talented trial lawyer and charismatic speaker, Sarcone began his political career in Newark’s North Ward and served as an assistant prosecutor in Essex County and as a deputy state attorney general.
He was elected to the State Assembly in 1959, at age 34, at a time when Essex County had twelve Assembly seats – all elected at-large in countywide elections.
Sarcone polled the second-highest number of votes in his first bid for public office. Republicans won seven seats that year and Democrats took five in Gov. Robert Meyner’s second mid-term election.
Sarcone ran 4,970 votes ahead of the top 13th place finisher for the twelve seats; the winner of the 12th seat, incumbent Daniel F. Flynn (D-Newark), won by just 201 votes. Three Democratic incumbents lost that year.
Sarcone sought re-election to the Assembly in 1961, when reapportionment reduced Essex County to nine seats.
On the coattails of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard J. Hughes’ 20,691-vote margin in Essex, Democrats won eight Assembly seats and Sarcone was the sole Republican survivor.
Sarcone defeated Democrat Albert Poll, a former assistant Essex County prosecutor from West Orange, by just 188 votes in a race decided after a countywide recount. Five Republican incumbents lost their seats that year.
He became the Assembly Minority Leader in 1962.
Essex County had an epic race for State Senate in 1963, the last time each county elected just one senator regardless of population.
Democrats decided to dump their two-term incumbent senator, Donal C. Fox (D-South Orange) from their ticket after he feuded with the county chairman, Dennis Carey. Party support instead went to Assembly Speaker Elmer Matthews (D-South Orange).
Sarcone became the Republican candidate for the State Senate as the GOP pushed to take back the Senate seat they lost when Fox ousted State Sen. Mark Anton (R-West Orange) in 1955.
The race became complicated when Assemblyman George Richardson (D-Newark), an African American, decided to run for the Senate as an independent.
Sarcone defeated Matthews by 15,902 votes, 51%-44%, with Richardson winning 4% of the vote.
At age 38, Sarcone became the youngest member of the upper house.
In 1965, Sarcone briefly sought the Republican nomination for governor to take on Hughes.
A statewide GOP screening committee was formed to narrow down the list of potential candidates to three. Sarcone was not among those picked.
Sarcone sought re-election to the Senate in 1965 after the U.S. Supreme Court’s One-Man, One-Vote decision gave Essex four State Senate seats.
Hughes won Essex by 69,749 votes over Republican Wayne Dumont, a state senator from Warren County. Democrats swept all four Senate seats in that Blue Wave election.
Sarcone finished fifth, running 7,144 votes behind Hutchins F. Inge, a Newark physician who became the first African American to serve in the New Jersey State Senate.
Inge ran 7,081 votes behind his running mate, former freeholder John J. Giblin, the father of Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Montclair). Sarcone ran 12,610 votes ahead of his running mate, Assemblyman Irwin Kimmelman (R-South Orange), a future state attorney general.
Sarcone sought a political comeback in 1975 when he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Frederic Remington in a bid for Essex County Republican Chairman.
In 1977, Sarcone became a candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination on a No State Income Tax platform.
State Sen. Raymond Bateman (R-Branchburg) won the Republican primary by a 55%-36% margin over former Assembly Speaker Thomas Kean (R-Livingston). Sarcone finished third with 6% of the vote and former Moorestown Mayor Bill Angus came in fourth with 3%.
Sarcone won one-quarter of his statewide votes in Essex County, where he took 15% of the vote in a county where Kean beat Bateman, 50%-33%.
The son of Italian immigrants, Sarcone graduated from Barringer High School in Newark, Muhlenberg College, and Rutgers University Law School.
During World War II, Sarcone served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed in the European Theater.