Home>Congress>John Alston, 1970’s candidate for Congress and Assembly, dies at 92

John A. Alston, Sr. (Photo: John Alston, Jr./Facebook).

John Alston, 1970’s candidate for Congress and Assembly, dies at 92

Jersey City activist ran for delegate on Shirley Chisholm’s ticket in 1972, outpolled incumbent assemblyman in epic 1977 Hudson primary

By David Wildstein, August 20 2022 5:14 pm

John A. Alston, Sr. who ran for Congress against Rep. Dominick V. Daniels (D-Jersey City) in 1974, died on August 13.  He was 92.

Alston ran as an independent against Daniels, who was seeking his ninth and final term as a congressman from the Hudson County based district.  He received 4% of the vote as the “Good Neighbor” candidate; in the Watergate Democratic wave election, Daniels defeated Republican Claire Sheridan by an 80%-16% margin, nineteen percentages points better than he did in 1972.

In 1972, Alston became involved in local politics as a candidate for delegate to the Democratic National Convention pledged to Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-Brooklyn), the first Black to seek the presidency as a major party candidate.

Running on a slate with former Assemblyman Addison McLeon (D-Jersey City), Julian K. Robinson and six others.  Robinson, who became the first Black candidate to run for mayor of Jersey City in 1969, made headlines in 1964 when, as Jersey City’s health and welfare director, turned down Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s request to hold a rally at Roosevelt Stadium.

His wife, Annie, ran for alternate delegate on the Chisholm line.

All nine of Hudson County’s nine delegate slots were won by an organization slate that was uncommitted to any candidate but supportive of Hubert Humphrey’s bid to stop George McGovern from winning the Democratic nomination.

The organization slate was headed by Daniels and included two prominent labor leaders, Assemblyman Christopher Jackman (D-West New York) and future State Sen. Thomas Cowan (D-Jersey City).   That slate outpaced the McGovern delegates by a 3-1 margin, with the Chisholm delegates running nearly 24,000 votes behind.

In those days, delegates were elected directly and presidential candidates ran in a non-binding beauty contest.  As a result, only Chisholm and former North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford appeared on the New Jersey primary ballot.  Chisholm won 67% of the vote, carrying every county but Passaic and Warren; she won Hudson with 57% of the vote, but just 10% of Democratic primary voters in Hudson bothered to vote in a contest that had no impact on the race for the nomination.

In 1977, Alston sought the Democratic nomination for State Assembly in the 31st district on a slate with two Bayonne candidates, Donald X. Ahern, the Bayonne High School football coach, for Senate and Frank Perrucci, the president of the Laborers’ Union Local 102, for Assembly.  They ran on a line with Rep. Robert Roe (D-Wayne), a candidate for governor.

After the upset victory of city clerk Thomas F.X. Smith in the May 1977 race for mayor of Jersey City,  the Hudson County Democratic organization slate fell apart.  Mayor Paul Jordan dropped out of the Democratic governor’s race and a slate backed by Smith led to the defeat of the senator from the 31st district, James P. Dugan (D-Bayonne), the sitting Democratic State Chairman.

Walter Sheil, a professor at Jersey City State College and an ally of Smith, won 49% of the vote to win the nomination.  Ahern, received 29%, and Dugan finished third with 20% of the vote, 8,328 votes behind Sheil.  A fourth candidate, Frank Gorman, received 2%.

In the Assembly race, the candidates backed by Smith and Sheil, Patrick Pasculli (D-Bayonne) and Olympic athlete Charles Mays (D-Jersey City) won the Democratic primary with 11,737 and 11,619 votes, respectively.  Perrucci finished third with 8,678, followed by activist Morris Pesin (7,532).  Alston finished fifth with 7,414 votes and incumbent Assemblyman William O. Perkins came in sixth with 5,757.  In last place with 1,374 votes was James M. Deveney, known as “Jim Jim,” a colorful Bayonne raconteur.

Perkins and Pesin had run with Dugan.  The other 31st district seat had been vacant since Assembly Speaker Joseph LeFante (D-Bayonne) resigned in January to take the congressional seat he won in 1976 following Daniels’ retirement.

A Korean War veteran who took part in protests to integrate lunch counters in North Carolina n the late 1950s, Alston became the president of the non-profit Salem‐Lafayette Housing Corporation, which was created to rehabilitate housing in Jersey City’s predominately Black Bergen-Lafayette ward.

Alston worked for the Central Railroad of New Jersey and a security guard for the Jersey City Board of Education.   He was the secretary of AFSCME Local 2262.  He also owned several businesses, including his “Mr. Tuscan” ice cream tricks, the Chili Town restaurant, and a wig and styling salon that often donated wigs to cancer patients.

He is survived by his four children, five grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

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