Former Assemblywoman Elba Perez-Cinciarelli (D-Jersey City), the first Latina to represent Hudson County in the New Jersey Legislature and an early supporter of same-sex marriage, died on Friday. She was 76.
Hudson County Democrats picked Perez-Cinciarelli, a Jersey City Education Association leader and chairwoman of the Jersey City Housing Authority, to run for an open 31st district Assembly seat in 2001.
“She was the epitome of a role model and her do good attitude was a tribute to her upbringing as a strong Puerto Rican woman,’ said a close friend, Hudson County Clerk Junior Maldonado. “The good lord has made room for another angel.”
The six-term state senator from the district, Edward O’Connor (D-Jersey City), did not seek re-election in order to seek a Superior Court judgeship. Joseph Charles (D-Jersey City) gave him his Assembly seat to run for Senate and Perez-Cinciarelli was tapped to run for the Assembly.
In the primary election, Perez-Cinciarelli defeated Jersey City Councilwoman Melissa Holloway by 5,981 votes. She ran 783 votes behind her running mate, Assembly Minority Leader Joseph V. Doria, Jr. (D-Bayonne).
Doria and Perez-Cinciarelli easily won the general election. She swamped Republican Ira Jersey by 16,750 votes in a part of Hudson County that hasn’t sent a Republican to the legislature since 1920.
Perez-Cinciarelli served on the Assembly Budget Committee and played a key role in blocking a bid to reduce prescription drug assistance for senior citizens.
Political power shifted in Jersey City during Perez-Cinciarelli’s single term in Trenton.
Doria had been expected to become Assembly Speaker after Democrats regained control of the Assembly in 2001, but Gov.-elect James E. McGreevey helped engineer a deal that instead made Albio Sires (D-West New York) the Speaker.
Glenn Cunningham was elected mayor in 2001, defeating Tom DeGise in a runoff held three weeks before the primary election.
Holloway was Cunningham’s first cousin and former staffer, but Perez-Cinciarelli was already on the organization line.
Charles decided to leave the Senate after less than two years to become a Superior Court Judge and Cunningham decided that he wanted the Senate seat.
In a primary that divided the Hudson Democrats, Cunningham headed an off-the-line slate that included Louis Manzo, a former freeholder and Jersey City mayoral candidate, and Bayonne Councilman Anthony Chiappone.
Perez-Cinciarelli and Doria ran with the organization candidate for Senate, Jersey City Council President L. Harvey Smith. McGreevey took sides in the primary, endorsing Smith, Doria and Perez-Cinciarelli.
Cunningham beat Smith, 48%-39%; Chiappone and Manzo ousted Doria and Perez-Cinciarelli.
Doria, who had also become mayor of Bayonne in 2002, ran 481 votes behind Manzo, and Perez-Cinciarelli trailed Chiappone by 1,447 and Manzo by 1,390.
She later returned to the Jersey City Housing Authority under Mayor Jeremiah Healy.
Perez-Cinciarelli was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the Bronx at age nine. Seven years later, her family moved to Jersey City. She was a 1974 graduate of Jersey City State College.
A public school teacher, she also served on the board of trustees of the Fairmount Housing Corporation. She spent 25 years on the executive board of the Jersey City teacher’s union.