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Former Essex assemblyman dies; was Tom Kean’s first opponent

By David Wildstein, November 13 2018 11:24 am

The New Jersey Globe missed the passing of Donald J. Fitz Maurice, a former assemblyman who was Tom Kean’s first opponent.

Fitz Maurice died on October 27.  He was 93.

Essex Republicans were at war in 1955.  The incumbent State Senator, Mark Anton (R-West Orange), faced a primary challenge from Assemblyman William Barnes (R-South Orange).   That created a contested primary for the Assembly seats.

Five Assembly incumbents ran with Barnes and lost the primary, while four ran with Anton and won renomination.  One of the defeated incumbents was Robert Vanderbilt, the son of New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Arthur Vanderbilt.

Essex County had 12 Assembly seats, all elected at-large and legislative slates were often assembled to bring some ethnic, geographic, gender and age balance to the ticket.  It was all about the Senate in those days; the Assembly didn’t matter at all.

Fitz Maurice checked off a few boxes for Anton: young (age 32), World War II veteran (he was awarded the Purple Heart as a tail gunner in the U.S. Army), Irish Catholic, and suburban (he was from rural Livingston).

Aton lost the general election to Democrat Donal Fox, a South Orange lawyer who had managed Rep. Charles Howell’ s nearly successful U.S. Senate race against Clifford Case in 1954.

But the Republicans won all twelve Assembly seats.  Fitz Maurice ran second, more than 11,000 votes ahead of the nearest Democrat, William Wachenfeld, the son of a sitting state Supreme Court Justice.

Fitz Maurice was re-elected in 1957.

In those days, Essex County Republicans and Democrats had self-imposed term limits for the State Assembly – two terms and out.  So Fitz Maurice did not seek re-election in 1959.

Essex Republicans had another fight in 1967, with rival slates for six State Senate seats and twelve Assembly seats.  The senate seats were all at-large, while Essex was divided into six Assembly districts.

District 11-F included Irvington, South Orange, Maplewood, Millburn and Livingston.  One slate recruited Thomas Kean, the 32-year-old son of former Rep. Robert Kean, to run for the Assembly on a ticket with Short Hills businessman Philip Kaltenbacher.   Fitz Maurice sought a comeback on the other slate, running with Vivian Tompkins Lange, the sister of former U.S. Attorney William Tompkins.

Fitz Maurice lost to Kaltenbacher by 2,031 votes, 6,181 to 4,150.  Kean ran 180 votes ahead of Kaltenbacher and Lange finished 131 votes behind Fitz Maurice.

In 1981, Fitz Maurice played a key role in the campaign of businessman Bo Sullivan for the Republican nomination for governor.  Sullivan finished third, behind Kean.  Later that year, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to serve as Deputy Public Printer of the United States, a post that runs the Government Printing Office.

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