Home>Highlight>Dorothy Power, five-term Middlesex freeholder, dies at 90

Former Middlesex County Freeholder Dorothy Power. (Photo: Middlesex County College).

Dorothy Power, five-term Middlesex freeholder, dies at 90

Piscataway Democrat flipped GOP seats in 1975, spent nearly 25 years as county college trustee

By David Wildstein, August 22 2022 1:40 am

Dorothy K. Power, who served on the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders from 1976 to 1990, died on August 21.  She turned 90 last month.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said that Power will be remembered for her years of service and commitment to the people of Middlesex County.”

“As a five-term Middlesex County Freeholder and Chair of the Middlesex College Board of Trustees, Dorothy dedicated her life to public service,” Coughlin said.  “We in Middlesex County are better off thanks to her tireless advocacy.”

Power, known as Dot, was serving as the Middlesex County Democratic vice chair in 1975 when she launched her first bid for public office as a freeholder candidate.

Democrats held their first mini-convention that year after the county chairman, Nicholas Venezia, promised some reforms in that candidate selection process in order to bring new Democrats who had become involved in politics through the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy and George McGovern to join the county Democratic organization.

Piscataway Mayor Ted Light wanted the seat, but an extended grand jury probe of his administration – which never went anywhere despite an 18-month investigation — made Democrats wary of his candidacy.  Power was emerged as a strong contender because Venezia liked the idea of putting a woman from Piscataway on the ticket who had no ties to local government.

Among the Democrats seeking support for the freeholder nomination were Milltown Mayor David Crabiel, whose brother, J. Edward Crabiel, was a former Senate Minority Leader, candidate for governor and New Jersey Secretary of State before his indictment.   He was known as “Concrete Eddie” because of his relationship with road contractors.  Crabiel ultimately decided not to run.

Middlesex Borough Mayor Martin Matuskiewicz, Sayreville Mayor John Czernikowski, South Amboy Mayor William O’Leary, Monroe Councilman Michael Dipierro, Piscataway Council President Paul Comiskey, Perth Amboy Councilman John Krilla, Sayreville Councilman Kenneth Buchanan,  Highland Park Councilman Joseph Lukacs, Carteret Councilman John Tomczuk, former Perth Amboy Councilman Frank Jess, former Sayreville mayor Edward Fielek, Perth Amboy High School principal Armand Cannemela, and Mary Serafin, the chair of the Middlesex County Welfare Board and a former South River Democratic municipal chair, also pursued party support.

But the top vote-getter for the freeholder nomination was North Brunswick Councilman Frank Pelly, who received 35 ½ votes out of 59.  Power received 30 votes, the minimum needed to secure a convention endorsement.  O’Leary finished third with 18 votes, followed by Dipierro (10), Serafin (8 ½), Comiskey (4) Cannemela (3 ½), Buchanan (3), Matuskiewicz (2), Tomczuk (1 ½) and Jess (1).  Three others whose names made it to the ballot – Fielek, Krilla and Lukacs – received no votes.

Democrats wanted to take back two seats they lost in 1972 when Republicans S. Elliot Mayo and Charles F. Williams.   Instead of seeking second terms, the two GOP freeholders sought seats in the New Jersey State Assembly.

Williams lost in the 17th district to incumbents William Hamilton (D-New Brunswick) and Joseph Patero (D-Manville) by 4,602 votes, while Mayo was defeated in the 18th district by 10,024 votes against Assemblymen John Froude (D-South River) and James Bornheimer (D-East Brunswick).

In the Democratic primary, Power (the top vote-getter) and Pelly easily defeated Walter Koss by a 3-1 margin.

Power and Pelly defeated Republicans Robert Costello and Michael Tobin by roughly 30,000 votes, giving Democrats all seven seats.

She became the second woman to serve as a Middlesex County Freeholder.  In early 1960, Edythe McAndrew was appointed to the board after Karl Metzger resigned to become the county welfare director.  McAndrew was elected in 1960 and again in 1961.

Democrats had held all freeholder seats from the 1928 until 1969 when Frank J. Coury (D-Highland Park) gave up his State Assembly seat after one term to run for freeholder.  He was the lone GOP winner, with Democrat George Otlowski winning re-election to the second seat.

After losing a State Senate race in 1971 by more than 30,000 vote against Democrats John A. Lynch (D-New Brunswick), Norman Tanzman (D-Woodbridge) and Crabiel,  Coury declined to seek re-election.

Seeking second terms in 1978, Power and Pelly defeated two Democratic primary challengers by a 4-1 margin.  Power was the top vote-getter.

In the general election, Power and Pelly defeated Republicans Stan Jak and Stanley Lease by a plurality of more than 30,000.  David Crabiel had been appointed to a vacant freeholder seat — 59-year-old Democrat John Rooney unexpectedly died of a heart attack on July 21 –and won a special election for an unexpired term against Republican Grace Applegate.

In 1981, Pelly teamed up with former Metuchen Mayor Donald Wernick after Pelly became a candidate for State Assembly in the 18th district.  Senate Majority Leader Bernard Dwyer (D-Edison) was elected to Congress in 1980 and Bornheimer was moving up to the Senate.

Power and Wernik won a six-candidate primary by a greater than 3-1 margin.

Despite Democrat Jim Florio carrying Middlesex by just 5,974 votes against Republican Tom Kean, Power and Wernik defeated Republican Joseph Bodnar and John Frary by over 20,000 votes.

In 1984, Power and Wernik faced a tough race against Republicans Michael Leibowitz and Bill O’Sullivan.  Ronald Reagan carried Middlesex County by 55,316 votes, 60%-39%, and if not for Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Bradley winning the county by 88,861 votes, 67%-32%, Democrats might have lost two freeholder seats.

Power ran about 1,000 votes ahead of Wernik, who led O’Sullivan by about 10,000 votes.

Three years later, Powers and Wernik defeated two GOP challengers, Peter Cassano and Applegate, by about 10,000 votes in a low-turnout election.

In 1990, Power decided not to seek re-election to a sixth term.

Wernik ran with Light, who had been anxious to move up to higher office since losing a 1979 Democratic primary for State Senate against off-the-line incumbent David Schwartz.

But Gov. Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase set off a massive revolt that extended to local offices.  Wernik and Light

Republicans won seats on the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders for the first time since 1972, with East Brunswick Municipal Prosecutor Roger Daley and high school history teacher Ronald Roman defeating Wernik by more than 15,000 votes.

Democrat Raniero Travisano lost his bid for re-election as County Clerk, and Rep. Bernard Dwyer (D-Edison) nearly lost his seat in Congress.

In 1991, Republicans took control of the freeholder board and won two State Senate seats and four Assembly seats in an ani-Florio landslide.

That lasted until 1993, when Crabiel returned to county government and ousted Roman by less than 5,000 votes in a race that saw Daley win re-election by about 2,000 votes against South Plainfield Councilman John Pulomena.

After Democrats regained control of county government, Power returned to county government to serve a three-year stint as clerk of the freeholder board.

Power served as deputy director of the freeholder board for eight of her fifteen years in office.  She chare the Education and Welfare Committee.

She worked as a management assistant at AT&T and was a longtime Democratic county committeewoman in Piscataway.  She served as Middlesex County’s Democratic State Committeewoman and on the board of the New Jersey Association for Elected Women Officials.

From 1997 until her death, Power served on the Middlesex County College Board of Trustees and was the longtime board chair.

Her husband of 48 years, Edward J. Power, died in 2013.  She is survived by her four daughters, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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