Viola Richardson, a longtime fixture in Jersey City politics and a popular three-term city councilwoman, died on Friday evening of a coronavirus-related illness. She was 74.
“I served with her for eight years on the City Council and she defined ‘fighter’ and ‘public servant’. She was a champion for her ward and a champion for Jersey City,” Mayor Steven Fulop said last night.
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, who represented Jersey City in the U.S. House of Representatives and served as Hudson County Democratic Chairman during Richardson’s early political career, called her an “impassioned and principled fighter for what she believed in.”
“I will always appreciate her long service and vigorous advocacy for the African American community,” Menendez said. “She will be deeply missed.”
A retired police officer, Richardson entered local politics in 2001 as a candidate for a Ward F Bergen/Lafayette council seat on a ticket with mayoral candidate Glenn Cunningham.
Cunningham won 82% of the vote in Ward F, which made up 38% of the total votes he received citywide to force then-Council President Tom DeGise into a runoff. DeGise had carried three of Jersey City’s six wards.
Richardson just narrowly missed wining the seat outright in the May 9 election, receiving 2,802 votes (48%) in an eight-candidate field that included future Hudson County Freeholder Jeffrey Dublin. Dublin ran on a slate led by Gerald McCann, a former mayor seeking a political comeback.
Former Bergen-Lafayette Merchants Association president Omar Barbour, who ran as an independent not aligned with any of the five mayoral candidates, made the runoff after finishing second with 966 votes (17%).
In the June runoff, Richardson defeated Barbour by 3,396 votes, 76%-24%.
Richardson easily won re-election to a second term with 53% in the May 2005 non-partisan municipal election against six challengers. Ronnie Clark finished second with 22%.
In 2009, she sought re-election on a ticket headed by Mayor Jeremiah Healy.
Richardson led in the May election with 40% of the vote. Clark, who ran on Louis Manzo’s slate, won the runoff slot by just one vote against La Vern Webb-Washington.
In the June runoff, Richardson won a third term by a 616-vote margin, 64%-36%, against Clark.
Two years later, Richardson joined an 17-candidate field in a November special election for two at-large city council seats.
The vacancies were created when Mariano Vega resigned prior to his guilty plea on federal corruption charges and Flood for health reasons.
Richardson was the top vote-getter with 4,102 and Rolando Lavarro captured the second seat with 3,558. The third-place finisher in that race, Suzanne Mack, received 3,332 votes, followed by Kalimah Ahmad with 3,071.
Sticking with Health, Richardson lost re-election in 2013 to three at-large candidates running on a ticket with Fulop: Joyce Watterman, Daniel Rivera and Lavarro.
Watterman finished first with 15,170 votes, followed by Lavarro (15,000) and Rivera (14,629). Richardson came in fourth with 12,186, followed her running mates, incumbent Peter Brennan (10,921) and Omar Perez (10,107). Two candidates who ran with now-Freeholder Jerry Walker, Sean Connelly and Ray Regalado, finished far behind.
Richardson’s former council colleague, Michael Yun, died of complications related to COVID-19 earlier in the week. He was serving his second term on the city council.
Gov. Phil Murphy called Richardson “tough and outspoken, a fighter for her community and her city.”
“Her life defined the meaning of the words, ‘public service,'” he said.