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Former Assemblyman Michael J. Ferrara

Michael Ferrara, former assemblyman, dies at 96

After redistricting put three incumbents in one district, Ferrara traded Assembly seat to become Bergen County Counsel

By David Wildstein, March 03 2019 5:00 pm

Michael J. Ferrara, who served in the New Jersey State Assembly from 1968 to 1970, died on March 1.  He was 96.

Ferrara has served National UNICO president and became the Maywood borough attorney in 1955.  He was the Maywood Republican municipal chairman in 1967 when he launched his own political career as a candidate for the Republican nomination for State Senate.

Redistricting following the U.S. Supreme Court’s one-man, one-vote decision was to give Bergen County five at-large State Senate seats and five dual-member Assembly districts.  Bergen had elected four Democrats to the State Senate two years earlier.

When the new districts were drawn, Maywood was placed in 13-C, which included Bogota, East Paterson (now Elmwood Park), Hackensack, Lodi, Oradell, Paramus, River Edge, Rochelle Park and Saddle Brook.

Bergen County Republicans did not put Ferrara on the Senate ticket, but GOP county chairman Nelson Gross offered him the Assembly nomination.

Ferrara teamed up with Paramus councilman William Crane against incumbent assemblyman John Skevin (D-Oradell) and John Conte, a 32-year-old funeral home director from Saddle Brook.

Ferrara easily won the general election, defeating Skevin by 9,697 votes in a Republican year.  Bergen Republicans swept five Senate seats and then Assembly seats in 1967.

New Jersey continued to tweak legislative districts amidst a series of challenges in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The New Jersey Supreme Court imposed a new computer-drawn map in 1969 that out three incumbents in two of Bergen County’s five districts.

Ferrara’s district 13-C now included Fair Lawn, the hometown of Assemblyman Richard Vander Plaat.

Ferrara traded his Assembly seat for the position of Bergen County Counsel, clearing the way for Crane and Vander Plaat to run in 13-C.  He was named county counsel and finished his one term in the New Jersey Legislature.

When Democrats won control of the Bergen County Board of Freeholders in 1974, Ferrara was replaced by Vincent Rigolosi.  Loretta Weinberg was named clerk of the freeholder board.

In 1986, Ferrara was named counsel to the Bergen County Board of Freeholders.  His appointment came after Bergen County voters approved a charter change to create a county executive form of government.  Republicans won all seven freeholder seats in the 1986 general election.  He remained in that post until Democrats won control of the board in 2000.
In addition to Maywood, Ferrara had also served as municipal attorney for other Bergen municipalities, including Cresskill, Elmwood Park, Garfield, Mahwah and Old Tappan.

The Union City-born Ferrara was an Army tank driver during World War II.  After being severely wounded and being awarded the Purple Heart, he joined General Dwight Eisenhower’s staff in Versailles.

Ferrara is survived by his wife, Grace, three daughters, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His late brother, Jerry Ferrara, was well known in Trenton as the executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association before his death in 2000.

Visitation will be held on Wednesday from 2-4 PM and 7-9 PM at the Vanderplaat Funeral Home in Wyckoff.  A mass will be held at 10 AM Thursday at St. Elizabeth’s RC Church in Wyckoff.

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