Daniel DiBenedetto, who challenged two-term Assemblyman Richard J. Codey in 1977, died on April 9. He was 73.
DiBenedetto was viewed as a rising star in Essex County politics in the 1970s. After law school, he joined a politically active firm, Kuttner and Toner. Bernard Kuttner was the Maplewood Democratic Municipal Chairman – he ran for assemblyman against Thomas H. Kean in 1967 – and Roger Toner was the Essex Fells GOP Municipal chairman.
He became the assistant city attorney in Orange in 1976, at age 26, while Republican Carmine Capone was the mayor. He became a political ally of John P. Renna, the West Orange GOP municipal chairman and later the Essex County Republican chairman.
In 1977, DiBenedetto ran for the State Assembly in the old 26th district, which included East Orange, Orange, West Orange, and part of Newark.
Codey, then 30, was seeking his third term as an assemblyman. His running mate, Assemblyman Eldridge Hawkins (D-East Orange), was giving up his seat to run for State Senate (he lost the primary to incumbent Frank Dodd).
Six candidates filed for the Republican nomination, all members of full slates supporting gubernatorial candidates. DiBenedetto and his running mate, attorney Jeffrey Gerson, ran on a line with Raymond Bateman; while Hugh Blair and Sarina Reeves were on the Essex organization line with Kean, and Joan Palermo and Victor Lanfrank were running with Robert Sarcone.
DiBenedetto (1,913) emerged as the top vote-getter, with Gerson (1,695) winning the second nomination. They defeated Blair (1,179), Reeves (1,139), Palermo (860), and Lafrank (727).
Codey also faced a primary, albeit minor, in a year when Essex Democrats backed former State Sen. Ralph DeRose (D-South Orange), one of ten challengers to incumbent Gov. Brendan Byrne. He ran on the organization line with Dodd, a former Senate President, and East Orange school board member Mildred Barry Garvin for Hawkins’ seat. They easily defeated three challengers, including Hamlet Goore, whose 2006 traffic stop for not wearing a seatbelt led to the resignation of his girlfriend, the attorney general of New Jersey.
DiBenedetto got clobbered in the general election, losing to Codey by more than 14,000 votes. Gerson, who finished fourth, later became a law partner with David Issenman, the powerful Union Township GOP municipal chairman and later a Superior Court judge; Kean appointed Gerson to serve as an administrative law judge.
The following year, Capone made the 27-year-old DiBenedetto the Orange city attorney.
DiBenedetto made one more run for office: in 1981, he became the Republican nominee for Essex County Surrogate. Incumbent Nicholas Amato defeated him by a 58%-42% margin.
In 1984, Orange Mayor Paul Monacelli named DiBenedetto to serve as the city’s business administrator. He became the municipal court judge in 1986.
Later, he moved to Manhattan, and then to Asbury Park, where he relaunched his political career. DiBenedetto became the Planning Board chairman, served as director of the Urban Enterprise Zone, and spent ten years as president of the Chamber of Commerce.
In 2011, DiBenedetto became the Asbury Park municipal court judge.
Codey went on to win a fourth term in the Assembly in 1979 and moved up to the Senate in 1981 when Dodd ran for governor. A former governor of New Jersey, Codey is now in his 50th year in the New Jersey Legislature, the longest tenure in state history.