Home>Highlight>Hugo Pfaltz, former assemblyman, dies at 87

Former Assemblyman Hugo M. Pfaltz, Jr. represented Union County in the New Jersey State Assembly from 1968 to 1972.

Hugo Pfaltz, former assemblyman, dies at 87

Summit Republican was GOP lawyer during 1960s redistricting battles

By David Wildstein, September 05 2019 12:30 pm

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Hugo M. Pfaltz, Jr., who was considered an intellectual giant during his two terms in the New Jersey State Assembly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, died on August 31 following complications from pneumonia.  He was 87.

He became involved in local politics at a young age and became the Summit Republican Municipal Chairman in the early 1960s.

A Harvard-educated lawyer, Pfaltz was one of sixteen Republican candidates who sought to be a Union County delegate to the 1966 New Jersey Constitutional Convention to deal with reapportionment issues created by the U.S. Supreme Court’s One Man, One Vote ruling.

Union County was to have ten delegates and each part agreed to nominate five candidates to run on a bi-partisan slate.

Following six rounds of votes, the Union GOP picked Pfaltz, along with former Assemblyman Peter McDonough (R-Plainfield), former Republican County Chairman Charles Bailey, Springfield Township Attorney James Cawley, and Elizabeth attorney Sidney Schreiber, who would go on to serve nine years as an Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

In early 1967, Pfaltz was the attorney who represented Republican members of the New Jersey Apportionment Commission, alleging that the map drawn by the Democratic-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Richard Hughes was unconstitutional.   The state Supreme Court threw out the that map, forcing the drawing of another.

As a result of the court decision, Union County received seven Assembly seats.  The county was carved into three dual-member Assembly districts, with one Assembly seat elected countywide at-large.  Union was also given three Senate seats, all elected countywide.

New Jersey’s legislative map would change in 1969, 1971 and 1973, when the state went to 40 districts.

A new Assembly district, 9-C, extended from Plainfield through the western Union County towns of Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Westfield, Mountainside, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, Springfield and ending in Summit.

The Union County GOP endorsed McDonough, who had served as an assemblyman from 1964 to 1966 – he ran for the State Senate in 1965 but narrowly lost to Mildred Barry Hughes (D-Union, the first woman to ever serve in the New Jersey Senate – and Pfaltz.

Pfaltz and McDonough faced a primary challenge from former Assemblywoman Irene T. Griffin (R-Westfield) and Kenneth White, a rail service activist from Plainfield.

Griffin had served one year in the Legislature in 1944 but by 1967 had become a bit of a perennial candidate.  She had lost three primaries for the Assembly, two for Senate and one for Congress.

McDonough, a charismatic campaigner who would later win a competitive race for State Senate in the 1973 Watergate landslide, was the top vote-getter.  He finished 2,309 votes ahead of Pfaltz.

Pfaltz defeated White by 812 votes, 6,503 to 5,691.  Griffin finished 2,583 votes behind White.

Democrats nominated two strong candidates: former Union County Assistant Prosecutor George Perselay and Joseph Gannon, a former executive director of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and also a delegate to the 1966 Constitutional Convention.

With 1967 turning into a solid Republican year across the state, McDonough and Pfaltz won landslide victories in District 9-C.

McDonough received 2,652 more votes than Pfaltz, who defeated Perselay by 22,988 votes and Gannon by 24,327.

Gannon went to the Assembly, becoming the spokesman for the Assembly Minority Office in 1972 and Executive Director of the Assembly Majority Office when his party took control in 1974.

Nine months after becoming Executive Director, Gannon was driving home to Plainfield after a meeting of legislative leaders when a 17-year-old driver stuck his car and killed him.  Gannon, a father of six, was just 40-years-old.

In the 1960s, before the New Jersey Legislature had big staffs or outside counsel, leadership would often turn to lawyer legislators to handle litigation on a pro bono basis.  Pfaltz was typically the go-to guy on matters like those, especially during the constant stream of redistricting challenges.

Legislative redistricting in 1969 moved Plainfield and McDonough into a district with Rahway that also included Scotch Plains and Fanwood.

Pfaltz ran for a second term in a newly-drawn District 9B that went from Westfield to Union Township and included Hillside, Summit, Springfield, New Providence, Mountainside and Garwood.  His running mate was another freshman assemblyman, Herbert Heilmann (R-Union).

Heilmann (40,376) and Pfaltz (49,093) easily defeated Democrats Michael Mehr (27,106), an attorney from Union, and Peter Humanik, the Hillside Recreation Director (26,636).

Pfaltz declined to seek re-election to a third term in 1971, citing the huge time constraints on his family and law practice.

Soon after leaving the legislature, Pfaltz expanded his law firm into lobbying and began representing the New Jersey Savings Banks Association.

In 1986, the Republican-controlled Union County Board of Freeholders considered naming Pfaltz as the County Manager.  He served on the New Jersey Battleship Commission

Pfaltz spent decades as an elder statesman in Union County politics, advising Assembly Speaker Chuck Hardwick (R-Westfield) and Rep. Bob Franks (R-New Providence).  He was a director of Elizabethtown Water Company, the utility company owned for years by the family of former Gov. Tom Kean.

He was the editor of the New Jersey Law Journal from 1984 to 1986.

Born September 23, 1931, Pfalz grew up in Short Hills and graduated from Hamilton College and Harvard Law School.  He served in the U.S. Navy for four years.

After law school, Pfaltz joined McCarter and English, New Jersey’s white-shoe law firm of that era.  He later opened his own firm, Pfaltz and Woller, in Summit.

Pfaltz is survived by his wife, Marilyn, two children, and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held for Pfaltz on September 15 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Summit.

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