Francis L. Bodine, who spent thirteen years in the New Jersey State Assembly, most of it as a Republican, died on January 11. He was 87.
A proponent of transportation funding for South Jersey and sustainable tax credits for businesses, Bodine served as mayor of Moorestown and as a Burlington County freeholder before winning a special election convention in 1994 after Assemblyman Robert Shinn, Jr. (R-Hainesport) resigned to join Gov. Christine Todd Whitman’s cabinet as Commissioner of Environmental Protection.
“Fran was a class act and a good friend,” said State Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), who served with Bodine in the Assembly for more than five years. “He was a man who treated people with respect and kindness.”He entered politics in 1976 as a candidate for the Moorestown Township Council after incumbents William Angus and Joseph Carson declined to seek re-election; Angus instead sought the Republican nomination for governor in 1977, finishing last in a field of four candidates with 3.3%. Running with James Palmer and newcomer Walter Maahs, Bodine defeated Democrats Barbara Green, Cully Miller, and David Beam. Bodine ran about 500 votes ahead of the top Democratic vote-getter. Bodine became deputy mayor in 1979 and mayor in 1980. He served as mayor again in 1985. Bodine was re-elected by decisive margins in 1980 and 1984.
After Shinn declined to seek re-election as a Burlington County freeholder in 1985 – he was also serving as an assemblyman at the time – Republicans picked Bodine to run on a slate with three-term incumbent Michael Conda. Shinn resigned after the primary, and Bodine was appointed to fill his seat.
Bodine and Conda easily defeated Democrats Paul Guidry, a councilman in Edgewater Par, and Evesham businessman Larry Steinberg.
The two Republicans won lopsided re-election victories in 1988 and 1991. He was freeholder director in 1988 and 1993.
Bodine had no opposition in a February 1994 special election convention to replace Shinn in the Assembly. In a 1994 special election to fill Shinn’s unexpired term, Bodine faced a primary challenge from Jack Ward, who had supported Ross Perot’s 1992 independent presidential campaign; Bodine won with 75%. He won the general election by more than 19 percentage points, 57.5% to 38.1%, against Democrat Mary McKeon Stosuy, an insurance lawyer and political newcomer from Southampton.
After six-term Assemblyman Harold “Doc” Colburn retired in 1995, Bodine teamed up with Martha Bark, a Burlington County freeholder. They defeated Democrats Russell Bates and Michael Kwasnik by over 3,000 votes.
Following the death of 68-year-old State Sen. C. William Haines (R-Mount Laurel) in December 1996 — Haines had announced a few weeks before his death of esophageal cancer that he would step down on January 1 – Bodine had expressed interest in the Senate seat. But Whitman pushed for more Republican women in the Senate, and Republicans gave the seat to Bark.
Bark’s Assembly seat went to Larry Chatzidakis, a freeholder and mayor of Mount Laurel.
Against former Mount Holly Mayor James Smith, who had run races for Congress and State Senate in the 1980s, Bodine won by over 9,000 votes in 1997.
In 2001, Bodine faced a fight for re-election from Carol Murphy, a young Democratic operative, but won by ten points. Murphy won an Assembly seat in 2017 and is now the Assembly Majority Whip.
When Bark retired from the Senate in 2007, Republicans again passed over Bodine and picked Burlington County Clerk Philip Haines for the seat. Further, Republicans dumped Bodine and Chatzidakis from the Assembly ticket and replaced them with Freeholder Dawn Addiego and Medford Mayor Scott Rudder.
In 2007, Bodine was the only member of the State Assembly not to vote on a bill that would require lawmakers’ votes to be immediately posted online. He had left the session early. Chatzadakis’ decision to miss a budget vote during the 2006 government shutdown because he had gone on a vacation contributed to the decision by the Burlington GOP not to support him for re-election.
Declaring himself a fiscal conservative with an independent voice, Bodine, 71-years-old at the time, decided to switch parties and take on Haines for the Senate seat.
“While many incumbent legislators chose not to run for re-election, I am making it clear at the starting gate that my service is not over,” Bodine said at a press conference alongside Rep. Rob Andrews (D-Haddon Heights) and Assemblyman Herbert Conaway, Jr. (D-Delran). “I am my own man and that I do what is right for the citizens of Burlington County.”
Assembly Speaker Albio Sires named Bodine as chairman of a special panel on flooding issues.
Haines defeated Bodine by 10,082 votes, 61%-39%.
During his tenure as an assemblyman, he served as Assistant Majority Whip in 2000 and 2001, as Assistant Minority Leader from 2002 to 2006, and Deputy Minority Leader from 2006 to 2007. He served on Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee formed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and on the Assembly Transportation and Environment committees.
“I aways found Fran to be a gentlemen throughout his entire tenure in the Assembly,” said Bill Castner, who served as executive director of the Assembly Democrats while Bodine was in the legislature.
A sales executive for a benefits management company, Bodine also served as a commissioner of the Delaware River Port Authority from 1983 to 1990. He served in the U.S. Army from 1954 to 1956.
Bodine eventually retired to Surf City and rejoined the Republican Party. He survived prostate cancer fourteen years ago.
Predeceased in 2013 by his wife, Elva, Bodine was survived by his two children and three grandchildren.