Home>Highlight>Ed Englehardt, longtime Passaic sheriff and GOP leader, dies at 93

Former Passaic County Sheriff Edwin Englehardt, left, with State Sen. Frank Davenport in 1974. (Photo: David Wildstein Collection).

Ed Englehardt, longtime Passaic sheriff and GOP leader, dies at 93

Served as sheriff from 1974 to 2001

By David Wildstein, April 14 2023 5:16 pm

Republican Edwin Englehardt, a legendary North Jersey political figure and monster vote-getter who served as Passaic County sheriff from 1974 to 2001, has died.  He was 93.

A hardware store owner and a member of the Paterson Police and Fire Commission and local Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Englehardt ran for mayor of Paterson in 1972.  He lost to Democrat Thomas Rooney by roughly 3,000 votes, 48%-39%, in a three-candidate race.

Englehardt became acting sheriff in 1974 after five-term incumbent Frank Davenport (R-Paterson) resigned to take his seat in the New Jersey State Senate.   Davenport had unseated Democratic State Sen. Joseph Lazzara by 93 votes in 1974, the only Republican to flip a Senate seat in a Watergate wave that left the GOP with just ten seats total.

After the election, Davenport picked Englehardt as undersheriff, setting him up as his successor.

The new Democratic governor, Brendan Byrne, could have appointed an acting sheriff, but that would have required Senate confirmation.  Davenport would have used senatorial courtesy to block that.  Davenport was also the Passaic County GOP chairman.

Englehardt had to face the voters in 1974 in a mid-term election that came three months after the Watergate scandal forced President Richard Nixon to resign.   He defeated Democrat Joseph Russo, a sheriff’s department lieutenant, by roughly 6,000 votes, a 52%-48% margin.

In the same election, Democrat Billy Kattak ousted Republican County Clerk Mervyn Montgomery by over 10,000 votes,  and two Democratic freeholders, Charles Dorman and Sidney Reiss, also won by a similar margin.

In 1976, Englehardt was indicted on conspiracy and misconduct charges but was acquitted after a judge.  He was accused of covering up a gambling raid.

He accused the Passaic County prosecutor, Burrell Ives Humphries, of indicting him as a way of flipping the sheriff’s office to the Democrats.

The following year, voters re-elected Englehardt to a second term by a landslide 29,000 votes, 65%-35%, against former Freeholder Alex Komar.  Englehardt swept all sixteen Passaic county municipalities, carrying Paterson with 61% and the city of Passaic with 52%.

Englehardt won 71% of the vote in 1980, 75% in a 1983 rematch with Russo, 68% in 1986, and was unopposed in 1989, a move that helped Democrats win three other countywide offices.  He was unopposed again in 1992, and won with 68% in 1995.  In his final campaign, against former West Paterson (now Woodland Park) Mayor Matthew Capano, he won 59%.

In March 2001, Englehardt resigned after the FBI opened an investigation into the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department amid allegations that he used his office for political purposes.   Ronald Fava, a former assemblyman and Passaic County Prosecutor, was named acting sheriff; he narrowly lost the post in 2001 to Democrat Jerry Speziale.

He was a U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War.  Later, he was the chairman of the Paterson branch of the Selective Service Commission.

Englehardt is survived by his nieces and nephews.

Funeral services for Englehardt are set for Monday at St. John’s Cathedral in Paterson.

Spread the news: