Edward L. Cotton, Jr., a former city councilman described by Rep. Bill Pascrell as a “jewel in Paterson’s crown,” died on Friday on pneumonia. He was 72.
It’s not immediately clear if Cotton’s death was related to COVID-19. The results of a test for coronavirus had not yet been returned.
An insurance broker and popular boxing referee, Cotton served as Paterson’s deputy mayor when Pascrell was the mayor.
The husband of Paterson Councilwoman Ruby Cotton, he was elected to the city council for the first time in 1980.
Cotton ousted incumbent Martin Barnes by about 150 votes to win the 4th ward council seat.
In that election three of five incumbents lost re-election bids. In the 1st ward, Marilee Jackson defeated future mayor Joey Torres by a little more than 50 votes.
The election of Cotton and Jackson was the first time more than one African American served on the city council at the same time.
Cotton was re-elected in 1984 in a massive landslide, winning 72% of the vote against challengers Raymond Imperatore and Prentiss Little.
In the same election, Maria Magdalena Lopez O’Keefe became the first Hispanic to win a Paterson council seat when she unseated ten-year incumbent Raymond Cassetta in the 5th ward.
Cotton resigned his council seat in 1986 after Mayor Frank X. Graves appointed him to serve as director of public works.
Ruby Cotton ran in a 1986 special election to her husband’s unexpired term, but lost an especially nasty race to Paterson Home-School Council chair Veradene Ames by just seven votes, 873 to 866. Ames was backed by Barnes, who later made a comeback and was elected mayor after Pascrell was elected to Congress.
Also in that race: hardware store owner Eduardo Colon and social worker Jeffrey Jones, who years later became the council president.
Ruby Cotton won the 4th ward seat in 2012 when Ames declined to seek re-election. She served briefly as acting mayor in 2018.
Pascrell became mayor in 1990 following Graves’ unexpected death at tapped Ed Cotton to serve as his administrative assistant, a post now called chief of staff. He later was elevated to deputy mayor.
“As my Deputy Mayor, he served diligently, he served loyally, he served the citizens of Paterson first. In all the positions he held in the city, and in the way he conducted his life, he was a man of no-nonsense and the highest character,” Pascrell said. “Eddie was also something of a renaissance man. He loved boxing and as a professional referee was involved in some big bouts.”
In 2019, Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh appointed Cotton to serve on the Passaic Valley Water Commission.
“When this crisis is over, we’re going to make sure Eddie is properly honored with a Paterson sendoff. May he rest in peace,” Pascrell said. “Eddie made Paterson better.”