Henry R. Cioffi, a former three-term mayor of Long Branch whose endorsement of 30-year-old Frank Pallone for a city council seat helped launch the political career of one of the nation’s most powerful congressman, died on April 27. He was 87.
Cioffi, known as Skip, was mayor from 1970 to 1982. He spent his career in school board administration and finance, holding posts in Eatontown and Elizabeth.
He entered Long Branch politics during a time when voters had switched forms of government twice in five years.
Cioffi was elected to the Long Branch City Council in 1963, after forcing incumbent Julius Tomaini into a runoff for a 3rd ward seat.
There were two elections that year: a special election for the remaining weeks of the seat Tomaini had been appointed to, and a race for a full term.
Tomaini led Cioffi by a 47%-33% margin in the May non-partisan election, with former Councilman Michael Celli finishing a distant third.
In the June runoff election Cioffi narrowly ousted Tomaini – by 8 votes for the unexpired term and 15 votes for the full-term. He was sworn in the day after the election.
He was re-elected in 1966, after Long Branch had switched from a council-manager form of government. Paul Nastasio became Long Branch’s first directly-elected mayor.
He ran for mayor in 1970 when incumbent Vincent Mazza declined to seek re-election.
Cioffi on by just 31 votes over William Scott, an election that was not settled until after a recount and court challenge.
After the election, Mazza became the Long Branch business administrator. He succeeded Bernard Hartnett, who served as Hudson County Supervisor from 1951 to 1954. Just four years earlier, Cioffi had sought the administrator post under Nastasio.
Cioffi was re-elected in a landslide when he sought a second term in 1974. He defeated former Councilman Edgar Dinkelspiel by a 54%-26% margin. Councilman Wilbert Russell won 14%, with the remaining votes going to Kenneth Lombardi.
Frank Pallone, Sr., a former police officer and father of the future congressmen and mayor, lost a bid for council that year. Running as an independent, Pallone had also endorsed Cioffi.
Long Branch voters narrowly re-elected Cioffi to a third term. He defeated Councilman Howard Woolley, Jr. by about 300 votes. Three of Woolley’s six running mates won council seats.
Cioffi’s political career came to a close in 1982, when he sought re-election to a fourth term as mayor.
Philip Huhn, the former Long Branch Republican Club president, ousted Cioffi by more than 1,100 votes, 52%-35%, carrying all six wards and nearly every voting district in town. Former Assemblywoman Gertrude Berman (D-Long Branch), an ex-Long Branch councilwoman who was elected in the 1973 Democratic Watergate landslide and then unseated in 1975, finished a distant third with 13% of the vote.
Frank Pallone, Jr. won a city council seat that year.
Pallone was a 30-year-old attorney when started his political career as a candidate for the Long Branch City Council in 1982. He had served as Gov. Jim Florio’s Monmouth County campaign director in 1981 and was one of Florio’s lawyers during the recount. His slogan: “A New Direction in Community Leadership.”
He faced ten candidates for five seats in the May non-partisan municipal election. Pallone raised the most money, about $12,000; most of the contributions were less than $100 each. He won Cioffi’s endorsement.
Pallone was the top vote-getter with 5,504 votes – 1,206 votes ahead of the second place finisher, incumbent James Cofer and 2,505 votes ahead of the candidate who finished sixth.
The following year, Pallone ousted State Sen. Brian Kennedy (R-Sea Girt). He went to Congress in 1988.
Cioffi attempted a political comeback in 1998, challenging incumbent Adam Schneider. Schneider had unseated Huhn in 1990.
Schneider was once one of Rep. Pallone’s closest friends, but the relationship deteriorated and the congressman’s brother, John, challenged Schneider in 1994.
Pallone backed Cioffi for mayor, but Schneider swept every district in the city and was re-elected by a wide margin. Schneider won every district in the city.
Cioffi was a football player at Red Bank Catholic High School, where he starred in comic operettas and musical comedies. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1949 to 1959.
He began his local government service as a member of the Long Branch zoning and planning boards.
After his military service, Cioffi attended the University of Pennsylvania and received a degree in Economics in 1959.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Jean, four children, five grandchildren, and two brothers.
Funeral services will be private, A mass and life celebration will be held at a later date.