HMarie L. Villani, a six-term Newark City Councilwoman and the first woman to win a citywide election in the state’s largest city, died on July 13. She turned 100 on July 4.
Villani was appointed to fill an at-large city council seat in 1973 after her husband, Ralph A. Villani, a former Newark mayor, resigned for health reasons.
She was elected to a full term on the city council in 1974, one of four winners in a field of 25 candidates. Mayor Kenneth Gibson, who became Newark’s first Black mayor when he ousted two-term incumbent Hugh Addonizio in 1970, won a second term against State Sen. Anthony Imperiale (I-Newark).
But in that election, white candidates retained a majority of seats on the city council for the last time, going from 6-3 to 5-4. In a June runoff, incumbent Anthony Giuliano was the top vote-getter. Donald C. Tucker, who ran with the backing of Gibson, finished in second place, about 1,000 votes behind Giuliano. (His widow, Cleopatra Tucker, currently serves in the New Jersey State Assembly.)
Villani finished third, around 1,100 votes behind Tucker and about 1,300 votes ahead of Rev. Ralph T Grant, who ran the city’s drug addiction program, and approximately 2,000 votes ahead of former Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Paul Daniele. Another incumbent, Earl Harris, received enough votes in the May election to avoid a runoff.
In 1978, Villani, Tucker and Giuliano were forced into a runoff with Imperiale, who had lost his State Senate the previous year. Harris won his re-election bid in May.
Tucker and Villani were re-elected, but Grant ousted Giuliano by less than 100 votes. Imperiale finished around 1,000 votes behind them. Teacher Ralph J. Villani, who was not related to the former mayor but had the advantage of his name, made it into the runoff but lost the by a 2-1 margin.
Harris gave up his council seat to challenge Gibson in the 1982 Newark mayoral race and South Ward Councilman Sharpe James ran for an at-large council seat. Imperiale finished fourth in the May election, approximately 700 votes ahead of Grant. Frank Addonizio, who was not related to the former mayor and had served as a West Ward councilman from 1958 to 1970, also made the runoff. (Addonizio later made a political comeback as a two-term Wall Township Committeeman and Mayor in the 1990s.)
In a runoff for all at-large seats, James finished approximately 2,600 votes in front of Tucker, about 4,100 ahead of Villani, and won nearly 5,100 more votes than Grant. Imperiale came in fifth.
That election gave Newark their first Black majority on the city council, twelve years after the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that the city had a majority of Black residents.
Villani was re-elected 1986 and 1990. She resigned in 1993.
She was the third woman to serve on the Newark Council. Anna Santoro served briefly in 1962 following the death of her husband, At-Large Councilman Raymond Santoro, and Sophie Cooper held the South Ward seat for five years following the death of her husband, Councilman Samuel Cooper.
Villani had supported the controversial Kawaida Towers housing project in the North Ward. The project, which was the brainchild of poet and civil rights leader Amiri Baraka (the late father of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka), drew fierce opposition from the predominately white voters in the North Ward. Black voters remained supportive of Villani throughout her political career and she was the last white candidate to win a citywide election in Newark.
Ralph Villani was elected to the four-year terms on the Newark City Commission in 1941, 1945 and 1949 and served as mayor of Newark from 1949 to 1953. He lost re-election in 1953, finishing fifth behind Leo Carlin (who would become mayor), former mayor Meyer Ellenstein, former Newark Purchasing Director (and future Democratic State Chairman) Salvatore Bontempo, incumbent John Keenan and former Commissioner Pearce Franklin.
Villani, who was the last Republican mayor of Newark, won an at-large city council seat in 1962. He died of a heart attack nine months after his resignation. He was 72.
The former Marie Juliano became co-chair of the Italian Migration to America Committee with Rep. Peter W. Rodino (D-Newark), and through Rodino she met her future husband, Ralph Villani.
She designed jewelry and clothing, and her company, the South Orange-based House of Juliano, was the first to sell pink mink.
Her late father, Anthony Sicnolfi, worked as a foreman at Thomas Edison’s factory in West Orange. She married Villani after her first husband, C. Robert Juliano, an RCA Records executive, died.
Predeceased by her son, Allen, she is survived by her son, Robert, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A viewing will be held at the Galante Funeral Home in Caldwell on July 20 from 3-7 PM. Funeral services are set for July 21 at St. Joseph’s Church.