Former State Sen. Francis J. McManimon, an enormously affable, cigar-chomping Mercer County Democrat who served in the New Jersey Legislature for 20 years, passed away today. He was 93.
McManimon served as superintendent of the Hamilton Township Department of Parks and Recreation from 1959 to 1989.
He made his first bid for public office in 1967, seeking a State Assembly seat in a newly-drawn Mercer County district.
In what turned out to be a Republican year – it was the sixth year of Democrat Richard J. Hughes’ governorship – McManimon lost to Republican John Selecky, the mayor of West Windsor, by 2,118 votes.
The top vote-getter in that race was Republican William Schluter, a Pennington township committeeman. McManimon’s running mate, Lloyd Carver, a Lawrence Councilman and the dean of admissions at Trenton Junior College, ran 622 votes behind him.
Lines were redrawn again in 1971 to create a Hamilton-Trenton legislative district.
The retirement of five-term State Sen. Sido Ridolfi, a former Senate President, opened a State Senate seat for Assemblyman Joseph Merlino (D-Trenton). McManimon, a close political ally of former State Sen. and Mercer Democratic chairman Dick Coffee, ran for Merlino’s Assembly seat.
McManimon was the top vote-getter, running 4,629 votes ahead of his running mate, four-term Assemblyman S. Howard Woodson (D-Trenton). One of the Republicans was Jack Rafferty, a 33-year-old Hamilton Township councilman who would go on to serve 24 years as mayor.
Woodson defeated Rafferty by 2,838 votes, with Republican Peter Rossi finishing 2,732 votes behind Rafferty. McManimon’s plurality over Rafferty was 7,467 and 10,199 over Rossi.
His niece, Jane, married the son of Gov. William T. Cahill in 1972.
In the 1973 Watergate landslide that propelled Democrats into a 66-14 majority in the New Jersey Assembly, McManimon won re-election by 19,528 votes over Republican Harry Dearden. He finished 5,122 votes ahead of Woodson, who became the first African American Assembly Speaker in state history.
Former Hamilton mayor Albert DeMartin decided to run off the line for Assembly in the 1975 Democratic primary, giving Woodson, the sitting Speaker, and McManimon a real primary challenge.
DeMartin made an issue of Woodson’s interest in leaving the legislature to join Gov. Brendan Byrne’s cabinet as president of the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.
McManimon was again the top vote-getter with 17,546 votes. Woodson defeated DeMartin by 2,185 votes, 14,021 to 11,836. In a primary that attracted a relatively heavy 35% turnout, DeMartin won Hamilton by over 2,000 votes, but Woodson doubled that plurality in Trenton.
The general election that year was a breeze. McManimon ran 4,277 votes ahead of Woodson, and 16,189 ahead of Republican Jay Destribats. The other Republican, Richard Harrison, ran 16,321 votes behind McManimon.
Woodson wound up resigning in 1976 to take the Civil Service Commission post. A special election that year for his Assembly seat was won by Helen Chiarello Szabo, the vice chair of the Mercer County Democratic Committee. She defeated Republican Carmen Armenti, the former mayor of Trenton, by nearly 7,000 votes.
McManimon went on to massive re-election victories for his State Assembly seat in the next two elections, exceeding 2-1 victories both times.
He outpolled Republican David Wriggins by 22,682 votes in 1977, and by 12,173 votes against Republican Michael Angarone in 1979. His 1979 win was with a new running mate, Gerald Stockman, who won a 1978 special election when Szabo stepped down to become Mercer County Superintendent of Elections.
Redistricting in 1981 separated Hamilton and Trenton into separate legislative districts.
McManimon ran in the new 14th district, which included parts of Middlesex and Somerset counties. Stockman won the 15th district Senate seat that was vacated when Merlino, the Senate President, ran for governor.
He defeated Republican Thomas Colitsas, an accountant from West Windsor, by 8,446 votes, 58%-42%.
The Assembly race in the new 14th was much closer: four-term incumbent Joseph Patero (D-Manville) ran with Joseph Bocchini, Jr., a 37-year-old attorney from Hamilton. Patero ran 336 votes ahead of Bocchini, who defeated Republican Paul Kramer, the Hamilton Township Improvement Authority chairman, by just 660 votes.
When 29-year-old freshman Republican Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton) sought re-election to a second term in 1982, the Democrat that frightened him the most was McManimon. Merlino ran instead and lost.
With two popular GOP incumbents up for re-election – Rafferty as mayor and Mercer County Executive Bill Mathesius, Republicans believed they could make a play for the 14th in 1983.
They recruited former Franklin mayor Charles B.W. Durand to take on McManimon, with Hamilton councilman Donald Tamutsas and Colitsas running for Assembly.
McManimon crushed Durand by 27 percentage points, a 12,928-vote margin (64%-37%).
Spared having to run in 1985, when Republican Gov. Thomas Kean won a landslide re-election, McManimon watched Rafferty beat Patero by 1,253 votes. Bocchini ran 516 votes ahead of Rafferty, and 4,287 ahead of Colitsas.
Rafferty’s unimpressive win meant that he couldn’t frighten McManimon out of the 1987 Senate race. Indeed, internal Republican polling that year showed that if Rafferty attempted to run for re-election as mayor and jeep his Assembly seat, he could lose both.
Instead, Rafferty left the legislature after one term and refocused on his local post.
McManimon faced former South Brunswick GOP municipal chairman Michael Richmond and beat him by 13,651 votes, 64%-36%.
Democrats won both Assembly seats: with Bocchini giving up his post to run for county executive, Democrats nominated Patero and Mercer County Freeholder Anthony “Skip” Cimino in a primary against Janice Mironov, the East Windsor Democratic municipal chair. Patero and Cimino easily won the general election against Hamilton’s Dave Kenny and WCTC radio personality Walt Sodie.
McManimon’s political career ended abruptly in 1991 when his support for Democratic Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase cost him his Senate seat.
His district had been redrawn to become more favorable to Republicans. McManimon lost Franklin Township and now had Hamilton, East Windsor, Hightstown and Washington (now Robbinsville) in Mercer County and Cranbury, Helmetta, Jamesburg, Monroe, Plainsboro and South Brunswick in Middlesex.
His Republican opponent was Peter Inverso, a popular freeholder from Hamilton Township. Also in the race was a Republican-turned-independent, Monroe mayor Peter Garibaldi. Garibaldi had served as an assemblyman from 1968 to 1974 and as a state senator from 1984 to 1988.
Inverso beat McManimon by 9,871 votes, 55%-37%, in an especially nasty race, with Garibaldi winning 9%.
Inverso won the Middlesex County portion of the district by 2,561 votes, and beat McManimon in Mercer by 7,310.
After leaving the Senate, Florio appointed him to s new commission to redesign New Jersey’s license plates. He never sought public office again.
A World War II veteran, McManimon served in the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S.S. Dayton.
Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton) passed a bill to rename a portion of I-195 that ran through Mercer County as the “Francis J. McManimon Highway.”
He served as Senate Assistant Majority Leader and took a special interest in legislation dealing with transportation, the protection of open space, veterans’ affairs and senior citizens. He opposed limitations on smoking in public places.
McManimon sponsored legislation that incentivized state workers to retire early, a move that won him popularity in the most state employee-heavy legislative district in the state.
“He was a great mentor, a true gentleman, and an exemplary public servant,” said Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello, who worked as a staffer on McManimon’s campaign.
McManimon was also praised by Gov. Phil Murphy.
“Franny McManimon was a giant in Mercer County. He was quick with a smile, an effective legislator, and never forgot the importance of mentoring those who would carry on the work of public service,” the governor said. “His was a life well lived. All who knew and loved him are in my thoughts.”
Born September 30, 1926 in Trenton, McManimon attended Trenton Catholic Boys High School and Niagara University, where he received a B.S. in Economics in 1954. He served as chairman of the New Jersey Parks and Recreation Legislative Committee, and as a member of the Hamilton Board of Health.
His brother was Edward J. McManimon, the lobbyist for New Jersey Bell Telephone Company.
His wife, Doris, died in 2012, and his daughter, Deirdre, passed away in 1988 from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He is survived by three children and seven grandchildren.
This obituary was updated at 1:37 PM on March 27 to include comment from Murphy.