Home>Campaigns>George Callas, Senate Democratic executive director in 1970s, dies at 90

Former Senate Majority Office Executive Director George S. Callas. (Photo: Orender Family Home for Funerals).

George Callas, Senate Democratic executive director in 1970s, dies at 90

Once a key N.J. political insider, Callas lost races for State Senate and Congress in 1980s

By David Wildstein, November 20 2022 6:12 pm

Dr. George S. Callas, a former executive director of the Senate Majority office who was an influential player in New Jersey politics in the 1970s, died on October 30.  He was 90.

After working in the legislature and serving as the New Brunswick business administrator, Callas mounted campaigns for the State Senate in 1981 and Congress in 1982 but lost two successive general elections.

Callas became active in politics in 1960 when he was elected president of the Edison Young Democratic Club.  In 1966, he headed the Monmouth County chapter of Young Citizens for Wilentz, a group of men and women under age 35 who were backing Democrat Warren Wilentz for U.S. Senate against two-term Republican incumbent Clifford P. Case.  Wilentz, a former Middlesex County Prosecutor, was the son of former attorney general and local party boss David Wilentz, and the brother of future New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Wilentz.

New Brunswick Mayor Patricia Q. Sheehan appointed Callas to serve as deputy city administrator in 1967.  He later served as city administrator.

He became president of the Monmouth County Independent Democrats in 1969.  The group’s membership had mostly supported Eugene McCarthy or Robert F. Kennedy for president in 1968.

After Democrats won control of the State Senate in 1973, Callas became the executive director of the Senate Democrats.  He held t hat post under Senate Presidents Frank “Pat” Dodd (D-West Orange) and Matthew Feldman (D-Teaneck).

After leaving the Senate staff in 1978. Callas became the director of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Administration in Monmouth County.

In 1979, Callas became part of a grassroots group led by former Democratic State Chairman and State Sen. James Dugan (D-Bayonne) to build support for Ted Kennedy’s campaign to challenge Jimmy Carter for the 1980 Democratic presidential nomination.

Callas was an early supporter of Rep. Robert Roe (D-Wayne) for the 1981 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Also in 1981, Callas became the Democratic nominee for State Senate in the Monmouth-based 11th legislative district after edging out Long Branch Mayor Henry Cioffi and Belmar Commissioner Paul Caverly.  He defeated Caverly on the second ballot at a Monmouth Democratic mini convention.

In the general election, freshman State Sen. Brian T. Kennedy (R-Sea Girt) defeated Callas by 9,256 votes, 58%-41%.   Among other things, Callas had campaigned on a platform that promised to end senatorial courtesy

In 1982, Callas decided to run for Congress against Rep. Edwin Forsythe (R-Moorestown) in the old 13th district, which included parts of Burlington, Camden, Ocean and Monmouth counties.   A former Senate President, Forsythe won a 1970 special election after Rep. William Cahill (R-Collingswood) was elected governor in 1969.

When no Democrat filed to take on Forsythe in Ronald Reagan’s mid-term election, Callas was one of five candidates who stepped forward and agreed to mount a write-in campaign in the Democratic primary.  A group of county chairs interview the contenders — Ocean County Freeholder Robert Gasser, former State Sen. Herbert Buehler (D-Ocean  Township), and Camden County Surrogate Bruce MacNaul, and James Pennestri of Pennsauken, who had headed the state Division of Aging while Brendan Byrne was governor – and picked Callas.  With 606 write-in votes, he captured his party’s nod to take on Forsythe.

Forsythe defeated Callas by 34,241 votes, 59%-39%.  This turned out to be Forsythe’s last campaign; he died of cancer in early 1984 at age 68.

(Marlene Lynch Ford, then a 28-year-old attorney, worked as Callas’ Ocean County coordinator.  She won a State Assembly seat in 1983, ousting freshman Assemblyman Warren Wolf (R-Brick), and now serves as he Ocean County Assignment Judge.)

Callas became the Jackson Township business administrator in 1983.  He left the post one year later to join the Monmouth County Private Industry Council.

In 2001, Callas considered a challenge to State Sen. Joseph Palaia (R-Ocean), but decided not to run.

He came from a politically active family.  His late brother, Stephen Callas, served as administrative assistant (a post now known as chief of staff) to Rep. Edward J. Patten from 1963 to 1977.  Callas resigned during a House Ethics Committee probe of the Koreagate scandal.

Callas had worked as a high school teacher and guidance counselor and worked at the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs while Richard J. Hughes as governor.    He later ran a business that worked with restaurant franchise and was chairman of Allaire State Bank.  Callas is a former Brookdale Community College trustee.   He was a 1955 graduate of Seton Hall University, where he later earned his M.P.A. and Ph.D. degrees.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Marilyn, his daughter and son, and three grandsons.

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