Former Assemblyman Warren H. Wolf, who served enjoyed a successful career Ocean County politics and a legendary high school football coach for more than 50 years, died on Friday. He was 92.
Wolf was a Republican assemblyman from 1982 to 1984 and served as mayor of Brick and as a freeholder.
He was the head football coach at Brick Township High School from 1958 to 2008 and at Lakewood High School in 2010. Wolf had 364 career wins, making him one of the winningest coaches in New Jersey history.
Wolf served as the assistant superintendent of schools in Brick from 1959 to 1992.
He became active in local politics in the 1960s and was appointed to serve on the Brick Utilities Authority.
In 1971, Wolf challenged incumbent Mayor John McGuckin, the father of Assemblyman Greg McGuckin (R-Toms River) in the May non-partisan municipal election.
Wolf defeated McGuckin by about 2,750 votes to become the second directly-elected mayor in Brick history. He won about 53% of the vote in a six-candidate field.
Emergence as a Ocean County political leader
Ocean County Republicans faced political troubles in 1974 when they recruited Wolf to run for freeholder following the retirement of GOP incumbent Joseph Buckalew.
One year earlier, Democrat Joseph Flynn won a freeholder seat in the Watergate landslide that resulted in Democrats winning the Ocean County State Senate seat and both Assembly seats.
The most formidable Republican in county politics, Freeholder and Manchester Mayor Joseph Portash, was dogged by a state grand jury investigation of his personal financial dealings and a bad national political environment following impeachment proceedings and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Democrat Robert Gasser was the top vote-getter, with Wolf running about 1,700 votes behind him to win the second seat. Portash finished third, about 750 votes behind Wolf.
That reduced Republicans to a 3-2 majority on the freeholder board.
Wolf declined to seek re-election to a second term as mayor of Brick in 1975.
In 1977, Wolf sought re-election to the Board of Freeholders on a ticket with Pine Beach Mayor Benjamin Mabie, a former assemblyman who had lost a State Senate race against Democrat John Russo (D-Toms River) four years earlier.
Gasser easily won re-election to a second term and his running mate, former Lakewood Mayor George Hoffman, defeated Wolf by about 1,800 votes. Mabie ran more than 2,000 votes behind Wolf and nearly 8,000 votes behind Gasser.
When Freeholder Ernest Buhr, who lost a bid for Ocean County Surrogate in 1977, declined to run for re-election in 1978, Republicans enlisted Wolf to run again in what would be a contest for control of county government.
Wolf defeated Jackson Township Committeeman Jack Savage by a 54%-42% margin to hold the GOP majority.
Election to the State Assembly
Wolf was elected to the State Assembly in 1981, winning the open Assembly seat being vacated by Hazel Gluck (R-Lakewood) after two years to run for the Senate against Russo.
He was the top vote-getter that year, out-polling four-term incumbent John Paul Doyle (D-Brick) by 642 votes. Wolf ran 4,111 votes ahead of his running mate, Bob Fall, and 5,513 votes ahead of the other Democratic candidate, former Point Pleasant Mayor Peter Marone.
Wolf’s open freeholder seat was won by Joseph Vicari, who is now serving his 13th term.
When he ran for re-election in 1983, he faced Marlene Lynch Ford, a 28-year-old Point Pleasant attorney and first-time candidate.
Ford made an issue of Wolf’s attendance record, claiming that he had missed more than 30% of voted during his two years as an assemblyman.
Between the attendance issue and Russo’s 63% re-election victory over Fall at the top of the ticket, Ford was able to upset the popular Wolf. She beat him by 2,112 votes. Wolf lost Brick by over 500 votes.
Wolf mounted a political comeback in June 1984 when he was appointed to fill Edward Kull’s vacant seat on the Brick Township Council.
In a November special election for an eight-month unexpired term – Brick elections were still non-partisan at that point, Wolf defeated John Kinnevy III, the son of former mayor John Kinnevy, Jr. with 76% of the vote.
Wolf won re-election to a four-year term as councilman. He was the top vote-getter in that race, finishing nearly 1,600 votes ahead of the top candidate on the opposing slate.
He became council president during his second term.
Brick switched to partisan elections in 1989 and seven council seats and Mayor Daniel Newman, a Democrat who had been an assemblyman for six years before Gluck ousted him, were up for grabs that year.
Wolf received the highest number of votes in a Republican sweep that took out three Democratic incumbents, winning re-election on a ticket that included future State Sen. Andrew Ciesla and future Assemblyman David Wolfe. Newman was defeated by Republican Steve Zboyan.
Politics in Brick became toxic in the early 1990s and Zboyan became the target of a grand jury investigation alleging that the mayor sought to pressure a Planning Board member, Robert Heslin, into hiring his wife, a realtor, to sell a business property he owned.
When Heslin gave the real estate listing to someone else, Zboyan fired Heslin’s two teenage sons from their summer jobs with the township.
Zboyan resigned in November 1992 and Ocean County Prosecutor Daniel Carluccio announced the next day that he would not pursue an indictment.
Wolf expected to be mayor and was shocked when the Brick Republican County Committee didn’t include him as one of three candidates to fill the vacancy.
The council picked Zoning Board Chair Carolyn Patetta, even though the first choice of GOP Municipal Chairman Allan Cartine was Martin Anton, the lawyer for the Brick Housing Authority.
Wolf immediately announced that he would run for mayor in 1993.
After securing the Republican organization line, Wolf defeated Patetta in the Republican primary with 62% of the vote.
In the general election, Wolf faced Democrat Joseph Scarpelli, a former councilman who had lost re-election in 1989.
Democrats made an issue of a $100,000 buyout Wolf received when he retired from his Brick public schools job the previous year, noting that the money for unused vacation and sick days came in addition to his public pension.
Scarpelli defeated Wolf by about 600 votes, a 51%-49% margin, carrying all but one district in Brick.
Wolf was appointed to serve as an Ocean County College Trustee in 1994.
The last hurrah
In 2010, Wolf went to war with the Brick Board of Education after they declined to accept his recommendation for a successor as head coach of the Brick High School Dragons football team.
He rescinded his retirement, but the board refused to allow him to return.
Instead, the 82-year-old Wolf decided to run for the school board.
Wolf was the top vote-getter in a five-candidate race for two seats. The two incumbents who didn’t back him in the football dispute lost their re-election bids.
After serving one year on the school board, Wolf announced that he was stepping down.
He said it was “just time to go.”