Harold J. Curry, a Democrat who served as an assemblyman from Warren County from 1964 to 1968, died on March 21. He was 89.
Curry was the Democratic candidate for Warren County Freeholder in 1962, running in President John F. Kennedy’s mid-term election. He lost to two-term incumbent John A. Pfeffer, Jr. by about 1,875 votes, a 54%-46% margin. Democrats had a 2-1 majority on the Board of Freeholders and Republicans fought to protect the tradition of a bi-partisan county government.
(In the 1962 election, voters tossed five-term Democratic Warren County Sheriff Francis J. Lennon, who had been criticized for “daylighting” – a practice that involved him holding a full-time day job while serving as the full-time sheriff.)
In 1963, at age 31, Curry sought the open State Assembly seat of Democrat Robert Frederick (D-Phillipsburg), who had resigned from the Assembly at the end of 1962 to become Warren County Prosecutor. In those days, Warren had one Assembly seat and the county was politically competitive.
Curry faced Herbert Watkins, a politically active businessman from Washington. He won the seat by 660 votes, 51%-49%, in Gov. Richard J. Hughes’ mid-term election. Democrats lost their majority in the Assembly in 1963 and Curry went to Trenton as part of a 27-member Democratic minority in the 60-member lower house.
He faced a tough fight to win a second term in 1965. The Republican state senator from Warren County, Wayne Dumont (R-Phillipsburg), was on the ballot as the Republican nominee for governor against Hughes. He faced Republican Benjamin Dall, an attorney from Belvidere.
Dumont, who lost statewide by 363,572 votes and 16 percentage points, carried Warren by 4,446, 58%-40%. Curry overcame Dumont’s coattails and won re-election by 1,385 votes, 53%-47%.
(Legislative redistricting after the U.S. Supreme Court’s One-Man, One-Vote decision ended the tradition of each county having one State Senate seat. Warren was placed in a district with Morris and Sussex counties that elected two senators. Republicans won both Senate seats in a landslide; Democrat Irene Mackey Smith, who later served as Belvidere mayor, came within 946 votes of carrying Warren County.)
Democrats won control of the Assembly in 1965 and Curry became the chairman of the Agriculture, Conservation and Economic Development Committee.
Reapportionment following the 1966 special Constitutional Convention – Curry was a delegate — created a Warren-Sussex legislative district with two seats. Two-term Assemblyman Douglas Gimson (R-Lambertville) ran for re-election on the GOP slate with Robert Littell (R-Franklin), the son of former Senate President Alfred Littell. Curry teamed up with Dr. Raymond McPeek, a veterinarian from Newton.
With President Lyndon Johnson struggling in Washington and Hughes, in his second mid-term, facing some fatigue in New Jersey, Curry could not withstand the Republican wave in the 1967 general election.
Dumont returned to the State Senate, winning 69% of the vote in the new Sussex-Warren-Hunterdon district. Gimson and Littell swamped Curry and McPeek, with Curry losing his seat by about 14,000 votes.
Still, Curry was the top vote-getter in Warren County, edging out Gimson by 1,263 votes.
Littell went on to serve 40 years in the legislature.
(Gimson, a rising star who became chairman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee in 1968, suffered two hear attacks in 1969 and died nineteen days before the Republican primary that year, which he won posthumously. He was just 39.)
After leaving the legislature, Curry was the Warren County Adjuster from 1968 to 1979. He Alpha Borough Attorney, as a commissioner of the Warren County Board of Elections, and as the attorney for the Phillipsburg Police Department.
Curry grew up in Phillipsburg and served in the U.S. Army after his graduation from Lafayette College. He later attended Rutgers Law School and served as a clerk to Superior Court Judge Frank Kingfield.
He was predeceased by his wife, Joanne, and his daughter, Mary Ellen. He is survived by three sons and seven grandchildren.
Curry’s passing leaves Gregory J. Castano, a former Superior Court Judge and longtime Harrison town attorney, as the last living delegate to the 1966 New Jersey Constitutional Convention.
The New Jersey Globe apologizes for the tardiness of this obituary.