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Former Fort Lee Mayor Nicholas Corbiscello

Nicholas Corbiscello, former Bergen freeholder, Fort Lee Mayor, dies at 100

Three-term mayor served as a freeholder from 1986 to 1989

By David Wildstein, July 11 2020 10:27 pm

Nicholas A. Corbiscello, a former Bergen County freeholder and a three-term mayor of Fort Lee, died on July 7.  He was 100.

Corbiscello became involved in politics in 1975 when he ran for a Fort Lee Borough Council seat as an independent forging a coalition between Republicans and a faction of the local Democratic Party.  He trailed Democrat Chris Nicholas by about 1,700 votes.

He became a Republican after the election and helped organize a new Republican Club in Fort Lee.

In early 1976, he was one of sixteen Republicans to seek three seats on the Bergen County Board of Freeholders.

After the GOP convention selected other candidates, Corbiscello again ran for council in Fort Lee.  He teamed up with Republican attorney Berek P. Don to challenge Democratic incumbents Scott Weiner and Arthur Lauricella.

Corbiscello was the top vote-getter in that race, defeating Lauricella by about 550 votes. Weiner narrowly won re-election, squeaking out an 83-vote victory over Don after a recount.   David Merker, a tenant leader who ran as an independent, served as a spoiler for local Democrats accustomed to winning large pluralities in Fort Lee apartments.  Merker received about 2,000 votes.

He ran for freeholder again in 1977 and 1978, but lost the Bergen GOP convention both times.

Bergen County Republicans had given their organization line in 1977 to State Sen. Raymond Bateman (R-Branchburg), but supporters of another candidate, Assembly Minority Leader Thomas Kean, forged their own slate of candidates.  Those were the days of vicious infighting between GOP county chairman Anthony Statile and former county chairman Richard Van Plaat.

Corbiscello ran for freeholder on the Kean slate, line with Woodcliff Lake Council President Joan Wright and Tom Bruinooge, an attorney from Allendale.

While Bateman carried Bergen County, Wright and Bruinooge won the GOP freeholder primary; former Oakland Mayor Leroy Wright defeated Corbiscello by about 1,200 votes.  Also defeated were the other Bateman/Statile candidates: former Fair Lawn Mayor Nicholas Felice and Palisades Park Mayor Robert Pallotta.

He was beaten at the 1978 convention by Felice, former Assemblyman Charles Reid (R-Paramus), and Paul Zerbst, a former freeholder candidate from Teaneck.

Instead, he ran off-the-line for freeholder on a ticket headed by former State Sen. Joseph Woodcock (R-Cliffside Park).  Woodcock, a former Bergen County prosecutor and briefly a 1977 gubernatorial candidate, was running for Congress against two-term Rep. Andrew Maguire (D-Ridgewood).

Bergen Republicans instead awarded the line to Marge Roukema, the Ridgewood Republican Club president.

Roukema defeated Woodcock in the primary by 1,634 votes and the line candidates swept the freeholder.  Corbiscello lost by about 3,500 votes.

In 1979, Corbiscello ran for mayor of Fort Lee against incumbent Richard A. Nest

In an odd twist, Corbiscello sharply attacked Nest for a cozy relationship with John Inganamort, the Bergen County Republican Chairman and the owner of the Mediterranean Towers apartment complex.

Inganamort would not allow Corbiscello entrance into his apartment buildings to campaign, but he would up beating Nest by a wide margin in the Mediterranean Towers district.

After a recount, Corbiscello edged out Nest by 27 votes, 4,398 to 4,371.

The following year, Republicans won control of the Fort Lee council.

Nest sought a political comeback in 1983.  He won the Democratic primary just narrowly over Nicholas, but Corbiscello was re-elected by a 60%-39% margin.

In 1985, Corbiscello sought to ride the coattails of Kean, then seeking re-election to a second term as governor, and ran for the State Assembly in the heavily-Democratic 37th district against incumbents Bennett Mazur (D-Fort Lee) and Byron Baer (D-Englewood).  Baer defeated Corbiscello by 3,045 votes.

That year, Bergen County voters approved a referendum to create a county executive form of government, paving the way for a countywide election that put all seven freeholders seats on the ballot.

Republicans convinced Freeholder Arthur Jones to challenge Rep. Bob Torricelli (D-Englewood) in 1986 and then put Corbiscello on their ticket for freeholder.

Bill McDowell won the county executive seat by a ten point margin against State Sen. Matthew Feldman (D-Teaneck).  On McDowell’s coattails, Republicans swept all seven freeholder seats.  Corbiscello finished sixth, just a few votes ahead of incumbent Charlotte Vandervalk.

Following the election, the county clerk held a drawing to determine the length of terms for the seven newly-elected freeholders.

Corbiscello was picked first in the drawing and got a three-year term, along with Barbara Chadwick and Charles O’Dowd.   Richard Mola and Bill Van Dyke received two-year terms, and Leonard Kaiser and Vandervalk had to run again in 1987.

In 1987, Corbiscello was re-elected to a third term as mayor.  He was unopposed in the primary, but his council slate faced a challenge from a rival faction of the local GOP and won 2-1.

He defeated Councilman Sy Vogel by 60%-40% margin.

Bergen Republicans held their freeholder seats in 1987 and 1988, and Corbiscello’s draw of a three-year term provided to be unfortunate.

Chadwick and O’Dowd withstood Democrat Jim Florio carrying Bergen County by 20 percentage points, but Corbiscello lost his bid for re-election to Democrat Mary Donohue, a former River Edge councilwoman who was the top vote-getter in the race.

Corbiscello finished sixth, about 9,000 votes behind O’Dowd.

One of Donohue’s running mates was former Englewood Mayor Steve Rothman, who would later serve fourteen years in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Corbiscello ran for re-election to a fourth term as mayor in 1991, but despite the statewide Republican wave created by Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase, Democrat Jack Alter defeated him

Alter won by less than 400 votes,  52%-48% margin.

In 1995, Corbiscello sought a comeback but lost to Alter by a 59%-41% margin.

He served as a commissioner of the Bergen County Utilities Authority and at age 92, was elected to the board of directors of his condominium association in Fort Lee.  He retired two year sago.

Born to Italian immigrant parents on Christmas Eve 1919, during the Spanish Flu epidemic.  He was a graduate of Jersey City Prep and attended Rutgers University.

Corbiscello served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was the co-founder of a construction company, Corbiscello Bros., Inc.

He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Anna, and his daughter.  He was predeceased by his son, Tony.

Editor’s note: David Wildstein was Corbiscello’s campaign manager in 1986. 

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