Raniero Travisano, a popular Sayreville Democrat who served one term as Middlesex County Clerk before losing in the 1990 anti-Florio protest election, died on June 8. He was 82.
Travisano was a junior high school teacher and guidance counselor when he became involved in politics as a protégé of Edwin Kolodziej, a Sayreville Democratic leader and World War II hero who won an at-large Middlesex County State Assembly seat in 1971.
He ran for Sayreville Borough Council in 1972, on a ticket with Felix Wisniewski, the father of future Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville). They defeated Joseph “Chubby” Keenan and others in the Democratic primary by about 400 votes.
Richard Nixon carried Sayreville by a 2-1 margin and a margin of more than 4,000 votes, but Travisano and Wisniewski bucked the tide and defeated Republican incumbent Joseph Prato by about 700 votes. Prato’s running mate, James Thelle, finished about 300 votes behind him.
When Travisano and Wisniewski ran for re-election in 1975, they carried 25 of 26 districts and won by around 1,200 votes. The Democratic mayor, John Czerinkowski, was re-elected by a margin of about 150 votes.
In 1978, Travisano and Wisniewski defeated primary challenger Alan Haag by around 800 votes, and then carried 25 of 26 districts in their general election wins against Democrat-turned-Republican former councilman Walter Kross and running mate John O’Grady.
Sayreville supported Democrat Bill Bradley in his U.S. Senate bid that year, but also backed Republican Charles Wiley in his bid to oust longtime Democratic Rep. Edward Patten (D-Perth Amboy).
Travisano sought the Democratic nomination for Middlesex County Sheriff in 1979 when Joseph DeMarino resigned to become mayor of Woodbridge.
Democrats backed Spotswood Mayor Joseph Spicuzzo, who won 104 of 158 convention votes. North Brunswick mayor Charles Nicola finished second with 21 votes, followed by Sheriff’s Department detective Daniel Spizzo with 20 votes. Travisano won 13 votes.
Sayreville Democrats dumped Wisniewski from the organization line in 1981 and replaced him with school board member Thomas Strugula, who ran with Travisano.
Wisniewski sought re-election anyway and installed his nineteen-year-old son, John, as campaign manager. He won easily, outpolling Travisano by about 900 votes and carried 23 of the 26 voting districts in Sayreville.
Travisano led Strugula by a little more than 100 votes to win renomination.
In the general election, Travisano and Wisniewski trounced Republicans Joseph Suchowiecki and Richard Rein, by a 2-1 margin. Wisniewski ran 1,500 votes ahead of Travisano, who in turn beat the Republicans by about 2,600 votes.
In 1983, Middlesex County Clerk Thomas Molyneux appointed Travisano to serve as deputy county clerk. He took the head of registry post left vacant by the death of John Kennedy.
Sayreville Republicans were at war that year.
Czerinkowski didn’t seek re-election, and John McCormick defeated Wisniewski in the Democratic mayoral primary by 1,000 votes. McCormick’s faction won 45 of 58 county committee seats and ultimately dumped borough attorney Alan Karcher, the Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly.
Molyneux, 60, sought re-election in 1984 but became ill in August and never returned to work. Three weeks after winning an easy re-election against Republican Richard Vitkausskis, who ran the East Brunswick motor vehicle agency, Molyneux resigned.
A special election would be held for county clerk in November 1985for a five-year term.
The race to replace Molyneux as county clerk attracted a significant field of potential candidates, including Travisano, Woodbridge 2nd ward councilman Pete Dalina, Old Bridge Democratic municipal chairman Jim Phillips, and DeMarino, who had lost re-election as mayor in 1983 to Republican Phil Cerria..
The Democratic county chairman, Nicholas Venezia, was concerned that Republican Gov. Tom Kean could have coattails when he ran for re-election in 1985 and considered other candidates for the post.
Assemblyman Thomas Deverin (D-Carteret) and Freeholder Steve Capestro reportedly turned the job down. Venezia also mulled running two former state senators, John Fay (D-Woodbridge) and James Bornheimer (D-East Brunswick). Fay, a mentor of future Gov. James E. McGreevey, had lost his seat in the 1977 Democratic primary; Bornheimer was defeated by Monroe Mayor Peter Garibaldi in 1983.
Venezia ultimately picked Travisano.
Kean won Middlesex by a 66%-33% margin, leading Democrat Peter Shapiro by 56,205 votes.
Despite Kean’s massive win, the Middlesex County Democratic organization held their countywide office and six Assembly seats, even as Republicans picked up fourteen seats statewide – including four in Hudson County.
Travisano defeated Vitkausskis by a 52%-48% margin and a plurality of about 7,000 votes countywide.
He sought re-election in 1990, at the start of a Republican wave mounted in opposition to Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase.
Bradley carried Middlesex by just 2,915 votes against Republican Christine Todd Whitman (51%-49%) and Republican Paul Danielczyk won the Middlesex portion of the 6th congressional district by only 43 votes against five-term Rep. Bernard Dwyer (D-Edison), a former Senate Majority Leader and Edison mayor.
Republicans rode the anti-Florio sentiments of largely blue collar, middle-class Middlesex County to win two seats on the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders. Ronald Roman and Roger Daley defeated incumbent Donald Wernik and Piscataway Mayor Ted Light.
In the race for county clerk, former Helmetta Councilman Herbert Lashomb ousted Travisano by about 10,000 votes – a 53%-47% margin.
Lashomb became the first Republican to win the Middlesex County Clerk post since 1922.
After the election, Lashomb went to the county clerk’s office to meet with Travisano. Travisano remained in his office and had Spicuzzo, the sheriff, deliver the message that there would be no transition meeting. Some private meetings between Travisano and Lashomb did occur, as well as one with Lashomb’s counsels, Donald Katz and Nicholas Stroumstos.
Travisano sought a comeback in 1995, but Middlesex Democratic leaders decided to give the organization line to Elaine Flynn, the Old Bridge Democratic municipal chair.
After leaving public office, Travisano served as chairman of the Sayreville Economic and Redevelopment Agency.
A U.S. Army veteran who served in Korea, Travisano was a graduate of Monmouth University and received his masters degree from Kean University.
He is survived by his wife, Joan, two brothers, and several nieces and nephews.
Visitation will be held on Wednesday from 3-7 PM at The Gundrum Service Home for Funerals in South Amboy, followed by a Mass at St Mary’s Church in South Amboy at 9:30 AM on Thursday.