Vito F. Puleio, who spent 46 years as the North Brunswick Democratic municipal chairman, died on April 16. He was 97.
Puleio was first elected municipal chairman in 1958, at age 35, when he emerged as a compromise choice when battling factions of the local Democratic organization were split between Frank Maltese and James Savage, the two candidates for township committee.
The incumbent, Stanley Rose, was stepping down after two years in office.
During his first year as municipal chairman, Puleio pushed to run women for local office to end a 13-year Republican winnings streak.
He recruited Anna Venute to run for tax collector and Helen Gutkowski for township clerk.
While Puleio was able to deliver a plurality to State Sen. John Lynch (D-New Brunswick), the local GOP won. Venute and Gutkowski lost by more than 1,000 votes.
It wasn’t until 1964 that Puleio was able to break the all-Republican council when Democrat Jack Pincus defeated Republican Isidore Chibbaro in a race for township committee by about 400 votes. President Lyndon Jonson carried North Brunswick by almost 4,000 votes.
After that, it took Puleio seven more years to finally win control of local government in North Brunswick.
That happened in 1971 when Frank M. Pelly, who later would serve as a Middlesex County freeholder and in the State Assembly, led a slate of three Democratic candidates who flipped the GOP council majority for the first time in three decades.
Ten years later, Puleio faced his first real opposition to keep his chairmanship, but the effort was squashed when all but one of the 17 off-the-line county committee candidates lost.
In 1989, Puleio was elected Democratic State Committeeman from Middlesex County.
Puleio resigned as chairman in 2004 after a reform ticket led by Mayor Francis (Mac) Womack upset the organization slate in the previous year’s Democratic primary.
He was succeeded by Councilman Bruce Chandlee, a Womack ally, who defeated Councilman Bob Corbin by a 23 to 15 vote.
Puleio became active in local politics after returning home to North Brunswick after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. He also spent 25 years as president of the Italian American Social Club of North Brunswick.
He worked Pepsi-Cola and Royal Crown Cola, before becoming director of building and grounds for Middlesex County in 1985. He retired in 2000.
He is survived by his two sons, two brothers, four grandchildren, and two grandchildren. His wife of 71 years, Beatrice, died in 2014.