Home>Local>Bergen>Michael Gallo, East Rutherford councilman who served when Truman was president, dies at 98

Former East Rutherford Councilman Michael Gallo. (Photo: Maura DeNicola via Facebook).

Michael Gallo, East Rutherford councilman who served when Truman was president, dies at 98

Gallo defeated future Congressman Henry Helstoski in 1951, then lost to him in 1957

By David Wildstein, November 24 2021 8:03 pm

Michael Gallo, a World War II veteran who served as an East Rutherford councilman from 1952 to 1958, died on November 22.  He was 98.

Gallo, who was 28 at the time of his first election in 1951, was probably among the last surviving elected officials in New Jersey to have served while Harry S. Truman was president.

A Republican, Gallo defeated 26-year-old East Rutherford High School teacher Henry Helstoski, who was running as the Independent Civic League candidate, 1,435 to 645.  GOP Councilman Arthur Zink ran second with 1,30 votes, and Helstoski’s running mate, George Cunningham, received 672.  Democrat Peter Goedhart finished fifth in the race for two seats with 591.

Gallo played a role in the earliest stages of the development of the Meadowlands and served as a councilman when Harold J. Hollenbeck served as mayor.   Hollenbeck had had won a four-way mayoral race after local Democrats withheld party support Mayor Joseph Brett, who then ran as one of two independent candidates.

In 1954, Gallo was again the top vote-getter after narrowly leading his running mate, Zink.  He defeated Democrats George Wilson and Cyrus Dolce by over 400 votes.

When he sought re-election to a third term in 1957, Gallo dealt with voters angered by local garbage dumps in East Rutherford and over a decision to rezone a nursery to permit the construction of a new supermarket.

Hollenbeck decided not to seek re-election and East Rutherford Republicans backed Councilman Joseph Sessselman for mayor.   Helstoski, who had won a seat on the borough council in 1956 as a Republican, ran as an independent and defeated Sessselman by a 54%-46% margin.

Gallo was joined on the GOP ticket by John Subda after Zink declined to seek re-election.   They lost by around 200 votes to Helstoski’s running mates,  Lester “Puggy” Plosia and John Scavuzzo.

(Helstoski wound up becoming a Democrat and unseated GOP Rep. Frank Osmers in the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide.  He held the seat for twelve years – current Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg began her political career working on the Helstoski campaign – before losing to former GOP State Sen. Harold “Cap” Hollenbeck, the former mayor’s son.

Plosia’s son, James L. Plosia, served as mayor of East Rutherford for 26 years, from 1970 to 1996, after ousting political allies of Helstoski.)

Michael Gallo, right, with his brother, Anthony, who was killed in action on his PT boat during World War II.

In 1972, Gallo sought a political comeback as a school board candidate but was unsuccessful.

Gallo was a member of the East Rutherford state championship baseball team in 1942 and was 18 when he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army.  In 1945, he participated in the invasion of Okinawa.

His brother, Anthony F. Gallo, was killed in action on a PT boat while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

He was named to the East Rutherford Recreation Commission in the late 1940s.

After working as a glassblower at East Rutherford Syringes following his military service, Gallo became an award-winning salesman for Prudential Insurance and a member of VFW Post 8374.  He later retired to Cape May.

Predeceased by his wife, Katherine, Gallo is survived by his two children, five grandchildren and seven greatgrandchildren.  Funeral services will be private.

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