Rev. James H. Biggs, a former mayor of Island Heights who ran for Congress against Rep. Bill Hughes (D-Ocean City) in 1978, died on May 30. He was 77.
Biggs was a magnetic 36-year-old Methodist minister and two-term mayor of a small Ocean County municipality when Republicans picked him to run against Hughes, then a two-term Democrat running in a district that Jimmy Carter won by two points in 1976 and Ronald Reagan by eighteen in 1980.
He entered politics in 1973 as the leader of a Citizens Coalition Party, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats seeking to change the form of government to non-partisan. Biggs was elected mayor that year, and again in May 1974 after he implemented his campaign promise.
Instead of seeking re-election as mayor, Biggs became the Republican candidate for Congress against Hughes, who had ousted Rep. Charles Sandman (R-Cape May Courthouse), a former Senate President and the 1973 Republican candidate for governor, in the 1974 Watergate wave election.
Hughes turned out to be more popular in his district than Republicans thought he would be. When he sought a second term in 1976, the GOP recruited their top choice, Assemblyman James Hurley (R-Millville), to run against him. Hughes won 62%-38%, running 21 points ahead of Carter.
Even though 1978 was Carter’s mid-term election year and generally benefitted Republicans nationally, Hughes 2nd district House seat was never really in play. Potential candidates like freshman Assemblyman Bill Gormley (R-Margate), State Sen. James Cafiero (R-North Wildwood) and Cape May County Sheriff Beech Fox declined to run.
Biggs raised practically no money – he was outspent 20-1 and lost to Hughes by 55,771 votes – a 66%-34% margin.
Hughes won five of the six counties in the district, losing the tiny portion of Burlington by 112 votes, 465 to 353. The incumbent won Cape May with 68%, Cumberland with 73%, Atlantic with 70%, Salem with 72%, and Ocean with 54%,
He later moved out of Island Heights when he was transferred to become pastor of a church in Pennington.
After 23 years as a minister, Biggs moved on to a second career as a lobbyist for several New Jersey banks. He was also a teacher at The Pennington School.
He also spent eighteen years as a member of the Mercer County Planning Board and served on the New Jersey Public Employee’s Pension Board.
He returned to Island Heights local politics in 2003, winning a borough council seat. Biggs was the top vote-getter in the May non-partisan election, defeating Council President James Ryan, 265 to 176.
Later that year, after longtime Ocean County Freeholder James Mancini died, Biggs sought support for the open seat at a December special election convention. The choice of Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore, Gerry Little, defeated Brick Mayor Steven Acropolis by in a 234 to 158 vote. Biggs and four other candidates received no votes.
Biggs ran for mayor again in 2006. Incumbent David Siddons defeated him by a 52%-48% margin, 328 to 207.
Siddons died in October 2008 and Karen Hershey was appointed to serve as mayor. She was not a candidate in a 2009 special election to fill the remaining fourteen months of Siddons’ term.
Biggs won the 2009 special, defeating Diane Ault Cullen by 149 votes, a 62%-36% landslide.
In 2010, Biggs was re-elected to a fourth term as mayor without opposition. He did not seek re-election in 2014.
Born and raised in Millville, Biggs was a graduate of Asbury College and the Baptist Seminary in Philadelphia.
Biggs is survived by his wife of 55 years, Kathleen, two children and four grandchildren.
A memorial gathering will be held on Monday at 4 PM at the Anderson & Campbell Funeral Home in Toms River, followed by a 6:45 PM service.