Home>Campaigns>Rose Brunetto, Democratic stalwart who ran for Congress in 1984, dies at 92

Rose Brunetto campaigning for the U.S. House of Representatives in New Jersey's 5th district in 1984. (Photo: Brunetto Family).

Rose Brunetto, Democratic stalwart who ran for Congress in 1984, dies at 92

She served as U.S. Senator Bill Bradley’s constituent services director for nearly 18 years

By David Wildstein, February 18 2023 5:57 pm

Rose Brunetto, a scrappy liberal who spent decades in Bergen County politics, nearly 18 years on the staff of U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, and was a Democratic candidate for Congress in 1984, died on February 11.  She was 92.

Her late father, Frank Bagolie, had served as the International Ladies Garment Workers Union executive. Brunetto attended her first campaign rally when President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Paterson in 1944.    She called Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956, her political hero.

Brunetto began her political career as a candidate for the Ridgewood Democratic County Committee in the 1960s and was the Bergen County campaign coordinator for Ned Parsekian’s campaign for the 1969 Democratic nomination for governor.  (Parsekian had represented Bergen County in the New Jersey State Senate from 1966 to 1968).

After Ho-Ho-Kus attorney Paul Z. Lewis unexpectedly withdrew as the Democratic candidate for State Senate in the 40th district in August 1973 – he cited scheduling cases involving upcoming trials — Brunetto entered the race to take on two-term State Sen. Garrett Hagedorn (R-Midland Park) in the solidly-Republican 40th district.

Rose Brunetto with U.S. Senator Bill Bradley in 1984. Bill Pascrell, Jr., the Passaic County Democratic Chairman, stands between them. (Photo: Brunetto Family).

Bergen County Democrats instead picked Robert Pennacchio, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and former Palisades Interstate Parkway police officer, to run for the Senate over Brunetto, 37 to 29.   Two other candidates, Ramsey Councilman Paul Dunn, and William McCauley, a teacher from Wyckoff, dropped out before the vote.

In that race, Brunetto won the vote of future U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli, then a 22-year-old Democratic county committeeman from Franklin Lakes.

Despite the Watergate Democratic wave election that left Republicans with just ten seats in the State Senate and fourteen in the Assembly, Hagedorn defeated Pennacchio by a 56%-44% margin.  But in the Assembly race that year, 23-year-old college student and Bergen Record delivery truck driver Paul Konstadt came within 363 votes of flipping an Assembly seat.

Brunetto ran for office twice in Republican years.

She became the Democratic candidate for the State Assembly in 1975 and won the Democratic convention with 27 votes, while Lewis edged out Mahwah Councilman Robert Zisgen by one vote, 22 to 21.  A fourth candidate, Fair Lawn’s Claude Beinstock, dropped out before the balloting.

Running as supporters of Gov. Brendan Byrne’s State Income Tax proposal, Brunetto and Lewis lost the general election to incumbents John Spizziri (R-Wyckoff) and Gus Rys (R-Fair Lawn) by over 10,000 votes.

Rose Brunetto with, left to right: Senate President Matthew Feldman, Rep. Andrew Maguire, and State Sen. Raymond Garramone, in the 1970s. (Photo: Brunetto Family).

In 1984, Brunetto challenged three-term Rep. Marge Roukema (R-Ridgewood), her former classmate at Montclair State University, and her neighbor in Ridgewood.  She called Roukema a flip-flopper and voiced support for a nuclear freeze, opposing President Ronald Reagan’s military expansion and his plans to a B-1 bomber and the X intercontinental missile.  Brunetto supported federal funding for abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, gun control, and cleaning up toxic waste dumps.  She opposed school prayer and aid for U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua.

She won a three-way Democratic primary with 84% of the vote but lost the general election by 42 percentage points and 102,313 votes.  Reagan and Roukema polled 71% of New Jersey’s 5th district vote that year.

Brunetto raised less than $70,000 and Roukema outspent her by a 4-1 margin.

She returned to Bradley’s staff after her congressional run and remained there until Bradley left the Senate in January 1997.

While Barbara Werber served as Bergen County Democratic chair, Brunetto was the party’s executive director, but was replaced when Vincent Rigolosi became county chairman in 1978.  She also served as an aide to Senate President Matthew Feldman (D-Teaneck).

Rose Brunetto in 2020. (Photo: Brunetto Family).

Following his election to the United States Senate in 1978, Bill Bradley hired Brunetto to work as constituent services director in his New Jersey office.

Predeceased in 2015 by her husband, Tom, Brunetto is survived by her son, Nick, two grandsons, and four great-grandchildren.  Another son, Thomas, died in 2014 at age 54 after a battle with lymphoma.

Her late brother, Barry Bagolie, was active in Passaic County politics and ran for local office in Clifton in the 1960s.  Another brother, Ricky, was killed in a car accident on the Garden State Parkway at age 19.  Her niece by marriage, Dr. Rosy Bagolie, was elected to the Livingston Township Council in 2022.

A graveside service was held this morning.

Her family requested contributions in her memory to be made to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

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