Home>Highlight>Peter Cartmell, elected to office in 1948, dies at 98

Former Rumson Mayor Peter Cartmell

Peter Cartmell, elected to office in 1948, dies at 98

Rumson mayor, banker, war hero fought to admit women, blacks to exclusive Essex Club

By David Wildstein, February 29 2020 4:19 pm

Former Rumson mayor Peter Cartmell, an immigrant who won his first election 71 years ago and later led the fight to admit women and blacks to the all-male, all-white Essex Club, died on February 22.  He was 98.

The Monmouth County Republican was likely the earliest serving elected official in the state at the time of his death.  He was probably the last remaining New Jerseyan to run on a ticket with Thomas E. Dewey.

Cartmell served as CEO and chairman of the Fidelity Union Bank, where he started as a cashier after World War II.

He was seriously wounded at the Battle of St. Lo in France during the European invasion while serving as a U.S. Army lieutenant during World War II.  He spent three years as an infantryman with the Ninth division and was awarded the Purple Heart, two battle stars, and the European Theater ribbon.

Cartmell spent D-Day in the English Channel and landed on Omaha Beach on June 9, 1955.  Nine days later, a German Tank destroyed a tank he was guarding.  Badly injured, he escaped a combat zone by rising on the hood of a jeep.

When Rumson councilman Paul Hintelmann declined to seek re-election in 1948, Republicans picked the 27-year-old Cartmell to seek his seat.

He ran on a ticket with another World War II veteran, Peter Cumming, a highly-decorated U.S. Army colonel.  Cumming had been appointed earlier in the year to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of mayor J. Edward Wilson.

Cumming and Cartmell defeated Democrats Ralph Walter and Francis Duffy by a 2-1 margin.  The Republicans each received 1,272 votes; Walter won 592 votes, with 589 for Duffy.

Rumson was then, as it is today, solidly Republican.  Rep. James Auchincloss, a former Rumson mayor, won 74% in his hometown.  In the presidential race, Dewey carried Rumson by a 74%-26% margin over President Harry Truman.

He was elected president of the Rumson Republican Club in 1950.

In 1951, Cartmell sought re-election to the borough council, this time running with John W. Carton, Jr.  No Democrats filed to run against him.

He was re-elected to a third term in 1954 on a ticket with William Halleran, who been appointed to fill a vacancy.  Cartmell was the top vote-getter, defeating Democrat Edward Sherman by a margin of nearly 3-1.

Cartmell, now 36, ran for mayor in 1957 when incumbent Francis Nary declined to seek re-election.  He was unopposed in both the primary and general elections.

Newark mayor Leo Carlin named Cartmell to serve on the city’s Economic Development Committee in 1959. He was serving as vice president of the Newark-based Fidelity Union Trust Company at the time.

He was re-elected in 1959 with 58% of the vote against Democrat Frank McKenna, a 389-vote plurality.

Citing growing responsibilities at his bank and a young family, Cartmell did not seek re-election to a second term as mayor in 1961 and was replaced by Republican Charles Callman.

As mayor, Cartmell was credited with putting Rumson on sound financial footing by building a large surplus.  Interest earned on that surplus helped the borough avoid large property taxes increases

In 1963, Cartmell became a trustee of Rutgers University.  He held that post until 1988.

He became executive vice president of Fidelity in 1964, was elected to the Board of Directors in 1965, and became president of the bank – the fourth largest – in 1969.

Working with New York Jets owner Sonny Werblin, Cartmell played a critical role in financing a professional football stadium at the Meadowlands.

Gov. Brendan Byrne appointed him to serve as a member of the state Banking Advisory Board in 1976.  His nomination was unanimously confirmed by the Senate.  He had also served on Byrne’s special budget priorities committee that helped assemble the fiscal year 1977 budget.

Cartmell became the board chairman and chief executive officer of Fidelity in 1980 after Malcolm Davis was killed in an automobile accident.  He retired in 1985.

He served as president of the New Jersey Bankers Association and the New Jersey Historical Society.  Cartmell served on the boards of  the Livingston-based Foster Wheeler.

Cartmell had a reputation for huge levels of honesty and integrity, and was unscathed when a candidate tried to drag his bank into a political dispute in the 1980s.

In his bid for Essex County Executive in the 1982 Democratic primary, former assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo accused incumbent Peter Shapiro of receiving illegal campaign contributions from Cartmell after Essex County purchased a building Fidelity owned in East Orange.

Cartmell was raising money for Shapiro at the time.

Shapiro called the allegations “scurrilous,” and said Caputo, who returned to the State Assembly in 2007, was desperately seeking attention for his campaign.

The issue was never taken seriously.

In the primary, Shapiro defeated former East Orange mayor Thomas Cooke by a 57%-28% margin, with Caputo finishing third with 15%.

Cartmell led a controversial fight to admit women as members of the Essex Club, an exclusive Newark lunch club, in 1975.  Three years later, Cartmell played a key role in the admission of the club’s first African American member.   He threatened to pull critical corporate sponsorship of the club if they didn’t accede to his demands.  The first woman to be inducted was Marie Garibaldi, who seven years later became the first woman to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Cartmell was born in Clydebank, Scotland and his parents emigrated to the United States in 1923.  His father died three years later, and his mother supported her family by working as a cook at a private estate in Rumson.

He graduated from Rumson High School in 1939 as a Phi Beta Kappa from Rutgers University in 1942.  At Rutgers, he was the captain of a crew team that went undefeated for four years until his boat was swamped on New York City’s East River by a Circle K tourist boat.

Cartmell is survived by his wife of 74 years, Constance, five children, nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned in the future.

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