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Former Kinnelon Board of Education President Ralph Ferrara. (Photo: Ferrara family.)

Ralph Ferrara, ex-GOP operative who narrowly lost Assembly race, dies at 80

18-year Kinnelon school board member came within 602 votes of winning Assembly seat in 1973 Watergate landslide

By David Wildstein, March 02 2021 4:21 pm

Ralph Ferrara, a onetime Republican campaign staffer who came within 602 votes of winning a New Jersey State Assembly seat in 1973, died on February 27.  He was 80.

If not for the Watergate wave the decimated Republicans – Democrats captured a 66-14 Assembly majority — Ferrara would likely have enjoyed a career in the legislature.

After a new legislative map was drawn for the 1973 elections dividing the state into 40 legislative districts for the first time, the 24th district was based in eastern Morris County and included parts of western Passaic and Summit – then a Republican stronghold – in Union.

Republicans had nominated State Sen. Peter Thomas (R-Chatham) and Assemblyman James Vreeland (R-Montville), along with Barbara Curran, a 32-year-old Summit resident who had worked as a newspaper reporter, campaign staffer, and executive director of the Republican State Committee.

The district was designed to be a Republican seat, included an incumbent Democratic assemblyman, John Sinsimer (D-Pompton Lakes).

In September, Thomas dropped his re-election bid after lame duck Gov. William Cahill, who had lost  the GOP primary, nominated him to serve as a Superior Court Judge.

Vreeland moved up top run for the Senate and Republicans picked Ferrara, the 32-year-old Kinnelon Board of Education president, to run for the Assembly.

Democrats had a wave election in Morris County in 1973, in an election that came two weeks after Nixon fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.  Brendan Byrne carried Morris by 32,000 votes, with Democrats winning a Senate seat and two Assembly seats in the adjoining 23rd district, and electing Douglas Romaine as a Morris County freeholder.

The 24th district was tougher for the Democrats.  Vreeland eked out a 2,587 win (53%-47%) against John Keefe, a teacher from Summit.

Sinsimer was the top vote-getter in the Assembly race, running 70 votes ahead of Curran, the winner of the second seat.  Curran defeated Democrat Charles Kennedy, the Parsippany tax collector, by just 203 votes.  Ferrara ran 399 votes behind Kennedy.

She became one of just fourteen Republicans in the State Assembly after the Watergate landslide obliterated her party.

Before running for office, Ferrara served as Chairman of Youth for Cahill during the 1969 gubernatorial campaign and as assistant campaign manager for GOP State Chairman Nelson Gross’ campaign for the United States Senate in 1970.

Ferrara got a job in the Cahill administration as special assistant for legislative affairs to the state Chancellor of Higher Education.

He volunteered on presidential campaigns for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and served on the White House Commission on Mental Retardation under both presidents.

Ferrara served in the U.S. Marine Corps, worked as a special education teacher, and was the director of alumni affairs at Fairleigh Dickinson University.  He served

After his Assembly campaign, Ferrara became director of development at Montclair State University, and later became a travel agent.

He served a total of 18 years on his local school board.

Ferrara is survived by his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth, three children and six grandchildren.

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