Paul J. Sollami, a popular Mercer County political leader who served seven terms as a Mercer County Freeholder and later as a state administrative law judge, died on July 15. He was 90.
He was the father of Paula Sollami Covello, the four-term Mercer County Clerk.
Sollami Covello said he father “best exemplified what it means to be a public servant.”
Sollami made his first bid for public office in 1969 when he ran for State Assembly in 1969 in District 6A in Mercer County. Mercer County Democratic Chairman, Richard Coffee picked him to run with Archibald Alexander, Jr., the son of a former New Jersey State Treasurer and U.S. Senate candidate. Freshman Assemblyman Bill Schluter (R-Pennington) was seeking re-election on a slate with Mercer County Freeholder Karl Weidel. Assemblyman John Selecky (R-East Windsor) was not seeking re-election.
The district included Hamilton, Ewing, Princeton, Hopewell, Pennington, East Windsor, West Windsor, Hightstown and Washington (now Robbinsville.)
In a year when Republican William Cahill carried Mercer County by three points in the race for governor, Sollami was defeated by 5,604 votes.
Later, Sollami’s wife, Roseann, would work as a realtor at the Weidel Agency.
Some trivia: the Alexander/Sollami logo was designed by Michael Graves, a famous architect and Princeton professor who designed the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin resorts and the Alessi tea kettle.
He was elected to the Mercer County Board of Freeholders in in 1970, and was re-elected in 1973, 1976, 1979, 1982, 1985 and 1988. During his 21 years as a freeholder, he served with some of the most consequential political figures in modern county history: John Watson, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, Shirley Turner, Arthur Sypek, Gil Lugossy, Doug Palmer, Skip Cimino, Anthony Carabelli, Jim Hedden and Joe Yuhas.
As a freeholder, Sollami played a key role in enhancing and growing the Mercer County Park System and Mercer County Community College. He was also involved in the expansion of the Mercer County Airport in Ewing.
When Senate President Joseph Merlino stepped down in 1981 to seek the Democratic nomination for Governor, Sollami was expected to take the 15th district State Senate seat.
Sollami won the Mercer County Democratic convention, but two-term Assemblyman Gerald Stockman (D-Trenton) won enough votes to have his name listed in the Democratic column and effectively run on Merlino’ line as well. Stockman won the Democratic primary by 1,878 votes, 55%-45%.
National Democratic strategist Tom Lindenfeld managed Sollami’s campaign, while Stockman’s race was run by the late Richard McClellan, who would go on to become the highly-regarded Mercer County Democratic Chairman.
In the 1991 Republican wave election that followed Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase, Sollami lost his bid for re-election to an 8th term as freeholder.
After that election, Florio nominated Sollami to serve as an Administrative Law Judge and he was confirmed by the Republican-controlled State Senate. He spent many years as the attorney for the Ewing Township Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Sollami spent his career as an attorney in the Trenton area. His late brother, William Sollami, was the chief of surgery at the Helen Fuld Hospital in Trenton.
According to his family, Sollami was elected class president every year from elementary school through his senior year at Trenton Central High School in 1949. He was an All-State football player and all county baseball player. Sollami was also class president at Villanova University. He received his law degree from Georgetown University.
Sollami was a U.S. Army veteran.
“He truly enjoyed helping people and public service, but spending time with us, and his large extended family and friends, brought him the most joy,” Sollami Covello said.
In addition to his daughter and wife of 58 years, Sollami is survived by another daughter, Maryann Montenegro, and his grandchildren.
The passing of Sollami leaves Lugossy as the last surviving freeholder who served prior to Mercer County’s switch to a County Executive form of government in 1975.