Robert P. Pallotta, a popular former Bergen County Freeholder and two-term mayor of Palisades Park, died on December 2. He was 84.
He was the uncle of Frank Pallotta, who was the Republican candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th district against Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) in 2020 and 2022.
Pallotta served on the Palisades Park Planning Board in the early 1960s – he later served as chairman — and in 1967 won his first election as a member of the school board at age 28.
After GOP incumbents Angelo Avella and Alexander Gasser declined to seek re-election, Pallotta teamed up with Robert Monahan to run for the borough council. Pallotta was the top vote-getter with 2,729, followed by Monahan at 2,642. Democrat Nicholas Rotonda finished third, 87 votes behind Monahan and 58 votes in front of his running mate, Henry Martocci.
Pallotta lost his seat in 1972 after Republicans who controlled local government faced allegations of overspending, financial irregularities and bidding law violations at the community swimming pool. A grand jury had cleared GOP local officials.
Democrats Peter Sambogna and Andrew Kovach ousted Pallota by six votes, with Monahan running about 100 votes behind his running mate. The loss came despite the 71% of the vote earned by President Richard Nixon in Palisades Park.
But Pallotta’s defeat by the voters didn’t impact his ability to remain in office. Republican Councilman Stephen Sinisi resigned in December and the Republican majority appointed Pallotta to fill his seat.
In the 1973 Democratic Watergate landslide, Pallotta lost another re-election bid. Democrats Herman Zuckerman and Vincent Grill beat Pallotta and another incumbent, Samuel Lazzaro. Pallotta finished third, 167 votes behind Zuckerman. That gave Democrats their first council majority since 1960.
When 50-year-old Republican Mayor Carl Russo resigned for health reasons in 1976, Pallotta was appointed to replace him. Russo’s May departure obviated the need for a primary. In November, Pallotta defeated Democrat Michael Pollotta with 63% of the vote.
Pallotta sought a full-term as mayor in 1978, defeating Willie Sambogna, a Democratic councilman, 55%-33%, with 12% going to Kovach, who ran as an independent.
In 1980, Pallotta sought a seat on the Bergen County Board of Freeholders. Republicans picked up to run with Northvale Mayor John Rooney and former Bergen County Superintendent of Schools Archie Hay. A total of fifteen Republicans had sought the nod, including future Assemblyman Nicholas Felice and Fort Lee Mayor and future freeholder Nicholas Corbiscello.
Hay and Pallotta won, while Democratic incumbent Doris Mahalick, the top vote-getter, won re-election over Rooney. The other two Democrats, incumbent Bennett Mazur and Paramus Mayor Joseph Cipolla, lost. Pallotta was the top vote-getter countywide, finishing nearly 5,000 votes ahead of Rooney.
Democrats took a 4-3 majority on the freeholder board in 1983 after they Paramus Democrat Fred Galda won a special election to replace Hay, who died in July. Mahalick was re-elected, along with former Paramus Councilman Allen Sklar. Republican Hank McNamara, a Wyckoff councilman, won the third seat, edging out Pallotta by about 4,000 votes.
Later, Pallotta got a job with the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
Pallotta spent eight years in the U.S. Army and National Guard, and two decades as a volunteer firefighter. He owned Bob’s Sports-O-Rama in Fort Lee for over twenty years.