James F. Isherwood, a former deputy mayor of Livingston and the last to serve on an all-Republican township council, passed away on Friday evening. He was 89.
He was the father of Darryl Isherwood, a former reporter who currently serves on Gov. Phil Murphy’s staff as senior advisor of economic development communications.
Isherwood was elected to the Livingston Township Council in 1972, when Democratic incumbents Kenneth Dollinger and William Cooney did not seek re-election.
He was the top vote-getter in field of four candidates seeking two seats on the township council. He received 7,645 votes, 125 more than his Republican running mate, C. David Geer.
Isherwood ran 1,613 votes ahead of Democrat Richard Cignarella, and led Democrat Robert Leopold by 1,734 He carried 14 of 17 voting districts, and his victory gave flipped two Democratic seats and gave the GOP a 5-0 majority.
Isherwood outpolled Rep. Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen (R-Harding), who had become Livingston’s congressman that year after redistricting. President Richard Nixon and U.S. Senator Clifford Case both carried the township that year.
A local newspaper endorsed Isherwood that year, saying “he has demonstrated true leadership ability and we think he would make a fine councilman.”
He became deputy mayor in January 1974 and was slated to become mayor the following year, but his plans were derailed when Democrats took control of the Livingston Township Council for the first time.
Isherwood came close to being mayor. The third Democrat who won, Dominick Crincoli, defeated incumbent Peter Cooper by 283 votes. A shift of 142 would have made Isherwood mayor.
In early 1976, Isherwood announced that he would not seek re-election to a second term.
He cited increasing family and business personalities, although he also understood that he might have to wait until Republicans regained their majority – January 1979 at the earliest – to become mayor.
Geer never actually announced his plans, but simply did not file to run. Democrats picked up one of the two seats in the November election.
In 1973, he was part of a group of Essex County elected officials who formed the North Essex Drug Abuse Council. He played an active role in advocating for a change in Essex County’s form of government in that year, when recommendations of the Essex County Charter Study Commission were rejected by the county political boss, Harry Lerner.
As a councilman, Isherwood served on the Livingston Planning Board and often led the opposition to the development of apartments. At the same time, he championed zoning issues that helped expand St. Barnabas Medical Center, then a somewhat new facility in Livingston.
When voters rejected the Livingston Board of Education budget in 1976, Isherwood was the only council member to oppose a new spending plan. He argued that the council had cut about $115,000 more than it needed to.
Isherwood was an assistant counsel of Prudential Insurance Company of America, working out of their corporate office in Newark.
Early in his career, Isherwood became prominent for his philanthropic endeavors. He headed the United Fund fundraising campaign in Livingston in 1967 and in 1971 served as chairman of the United Fund of North Essex. Under his leadership, the organization raised nearly $750,000 – about $4.8 million in today’s dollars.
Before running for local office, Isherwood on the Livingston Industrial Development Council.
He served as a trustee of the Livingston Youth Employment Service from 1968 to 1970, and was active in the Orange Mountain Council of the Boys Scouts and the West Essex YMCA Indian Guides program. He was an active member of the Livingston Kiwanis Club and the Livingston Republican Club. He served as trustee of the Jaycees Foundation and was selected as the “Outstanding Young Man from Livingston” in 19 by the Livingston Jaycees.
Isherwood was a graduate of Yale University and Seton Hall Law School.
He served on active duty in the U.S. Army for nearly four years and was discharged with the rank of first lieutenant in 1956. He retired from the U.S. Army Reserve in 1964 as a captain.
His wife, Mildred, died in 2015. He is survived by his three sons, Jay, Brian and Darryl, and four grandchildren.