Frank H. Blatz, Jr., who served as mayor of Plainfield from 1969 to 1974, died on February 1. He was 84.
Blatz was a 33-year-old lawyer and retired Marine Corps captain when he was elected mayor in 1968. That was the year local voters approved a new form of government that included a strong mayor and a full-time city administrator.
He launched his political career in 1967, winning a seat on the city council after serving as second assistant corporation counsel for the city.
Plainfield had been rocked that summer by of racial unrest s that followed the Newark race riots. During the Plainfield riots, a city police officer was killed when a crowd beat him.
Republicans won six of nine Plainfield council seats that year.
Blatz finished second in a race for three at-large seats, receiving about 150 votes behind Paul O’Keeffe, who would later serve as mayor and Union County freeholder. Blatz ran about 2,800 votes ahead of the top Democratic vote-getter, Calvin Price.
One of the Democratic winners that year was another future mayor, Everett Lattimore. He won a race for first ward councilman by just 12-votes, while also losing a bid for the State Assembly.
Republicans picked Blatz to run for mayor in 1968 when the incumbent, George Hetfield, declined to run again.
Hetfield, who had won 49% of the vote in a 1953 special election for Conrgess, again had faced strong criticism from the city’s African American residents for his record on race relations. About one-third of Plainfield was black.
Blatz defeated Democrat Roberta Knowlton by 1,136 votes, 53%-47%.
Knowlton, a white stay-at-home mother of five, had two adopted African American daughters and ran well among the city’s black voters.
The change in government led to another mayoral election in 1969, this time for a four-year term.
Blatz faced a rematch with Knowlton.
Both faced primary opposition.
A self-described “John Lindsay Republican” modeled after New York City’s liberal Republican mayor, Blatz defeated conservative Kenneth White by a 2-1 margin. Knowlton defeated Bernard Carvaliere, who campaigned as a conservative Democrat, also by a 2-1 margin.
The contest became heated, with Baltz accusing Knowlton of misrepresenting his record. Both candidates straddled the line on the controversial question of school busing to meet state mandates for the integration of public schools
This time, Blatz won by a wide margin. He defeated Knowlton by about 2,200 votes, 59%-41%.
In 1972, Blatz said he was interested in running for State Senate if the incumbent, Matthew Rinaldo (R-Union) won the open seat being vacated by retiring eight-term Rep. Florence Dwyer (R-Elizabeth).
At the time, Union County’s three state senate seats ran in countywide, at-large elections,
When a new legislative map was drawn in 1973 to create a district that included Plainfield, Rahway, Scotch Plains and some of the Union County ridge towns, Blatz backed Assemblyman Peter J. McDonough (R-Plainfield) in a Republican primary against State Sen. Jerome Epstein (R-Scotch Plains).
Later, Blatz was widely mentioned as a possible candidate for a top post in Gov. Bill Cahill’s administration.
Blatz did not seek re-election in 1973 and backed O’Keeffe as his successor. The Republican municipal chairman, John Carbone, supported former Plainfield Taxpayers Association president Gertrude Christiansen, a longtime O’Keeffe rival.
O’Keeffe won by 20 percentage points. The Democratic nomination was won by Richard Roundtree, a former elementary school principal who became Plainfield’s first African American mayoral candidate.
After the 1973 primary, Blatz challenged Carbone for Republican municipal chairman but lost by four votes, 33 to 29.
Plainfield Republicans withstood the Democratic Watergate landslide that swept the rest of the state, with O’Keeffe defeating Roundtree by about 1,000 votes. McDonough, a local political legend, won a State Senate seat in year where Democrats won a 29-10 majority.
Blatz became corporation counsel under O’Keeffe. He also served as Fanwood borough attorney from 1976 to 1988, and served as a trustee of Union County College for 30 years.
His grandfather, Francis J. Blatz, served as a member of the Plainfield Common Council in the late 1910s.
A Plainfield native, Blatz serve was a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School. He serve din the Marines from 1958 to 1961 as a member of the First and Second Marine Air Wings.
Blatz is survived by his wife, Joanne, his son, Eric, and five grandchildren. His first wife, Joan, and his son, Greg, predeceased him.
Visitation will be held on Tuesday from 4-7 PM at the Higgins Home for Funerals in Watching. A service is set for 10 AM on Wednesday ta St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Westfield.