Patricia McGarry Drake, who rose from a secretarial position to serve as Essex County Clerk from 1991 to 1996, died on November 25. She was 82.
Drake worked in the county clerk’s office for 22 years — six years as the deputy county clerk — during the tenure of Nicholas V. Caputo, “The Man with the Golden Arm.” After Caputo announced that he would not seek re-election in 1990 after 30 years in office, the Essex County Democratic organization picked Drake as their candidate to replace him.
Unopposed in the Democratic primary, Drake defeated Republican Timothy Kane, a former Bloomfield councilman, by a margin of more than 15,000 votes, 56%-44%.
The 1990 contest returned the county executive office to the Democrats after a party split resulted in the election of Democrat-turned-Republican Nicholas Amato in 1986.
When she sought re-election in 1995, Essex Democrats decided to go in a different direction and replaced her with Irvington Council President Patrick McNally. The decision was made by the Democratic county chairman, Thomas P. Giblin, at the request of North Ward Democratic leader Steve Adubato, Sr. and East Orange Mayor Cardell Cooper as part of a plan to heal a rift in the party that began the previous year when Giblin and Cooper faced each other in a race for county executive.
McNally had been planning to run for 28th district, State Assembly in a district that included part of Newark and Irvington, and Adubato was backing Wilfredo Caraballo (D-South Orange) and Craig Stanley (D-Irvington) for the nomination against incumbent Harry McEnroe (D-South Orange) McNally was convinced to drop his legislative bid in exchange for the organization line for county clerk.
Drake mounted an off-the-line campaign in the Democratic primary, aligning herself with McEnroe and his new running mate, former Irvington Mayor Michael Steele. In the 29th district, she ran with South Ward Democratic leader Lee Fisher, who was challenging 11-term Assemblyman Willie Brown (D-Newark). She had the backing of State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark).
Fisher had the backing of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, who was angered by Brown’s endorsement of his 1994 Republican opponent, Assembly Speaker Chuck Haytaian.
Brown defeated Fisher by 1,713 votes, but McEnroe lost his re-election bid.
She turned out to be a strong candidate who didn’t hesitate to criticize party bosses and allege that McNally was someone who could be controlled. McNally attacked Drake for having relatives and close friends employed by the county.
In a stunningly narrow victory, McNally defeated Drake by a margin of less than one percent countywide.
A former president of the County Officers Association of New Jersey, Drake lived in Newark and Bloomfield before moving to Belmar in 2001.
Drake is survived by her four children, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 4-8 PM today at the Reilly Bonner Funeral Home in Belmar, followed by a funeral service at 10:30 AM on Tuesday at the Church of St. Rose in Belmar.