Home>Campaigns>An Essex Senate race for a 61-day term where one of the candidates — a barber — was the county coroner

State Sen. Charles DeMarco, left, and former Essex County Coroner Nicholas LaSpina.

An Essex Senate race for a 61-day term where one of the candidates — a barber — was the county coroner

Democrats flipped two Senate seats in November 1971 for unexpired terms that would last for two months

By David Wildstein, May 23 2021 11:07 pm

A long-forgotten former state senator from Essex County was Charles DeMarco, a relatively obscure Democratic stalwart who got to serve two months in the New Jersey Senate nearly 50 years ago.

State Sen. David Dowd (R-Livingston) had resigned in early 1971 to become general counsel to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.

In those days, there was no mechanism to fill legislative vacancies until the next general election.  That was in November 1971.  Dowd’s seat was up that year anyway.

DeMarco faced Republican Nicholas LaSpina, a barber from Irvington who was elected Essex County Coroner in 1967 before the post stopped being an elected office in 1969.

A U.S. Navy veteran, DeMarco worked in Essex County Clerk Nicholas Caputo’s office.

DeMarco defeated LaSpina by 7,173 votes, 47%-43%, with the remaining votes going to Frank Messina, an Operating Engineers member who ran on the independent Essex Bi-Partisan slate.

1971 was the last year counties elected senators at-large.  New Jersey adopted a 40-district map in 1973.

In the same election, Democrat Jerry Fitzgerald English (D-Summit), flipped a Republican State Senate seat in Union County.  She defeated Republican Dyke Pollit, a Fanwood councilman, by a 51%-45% margin for the seat State Sen. Nicholas St. John LaCorte (R-Elizabeth) gave up after becoming a tax court judge.

English was just the second woman to serve in the New Jersey State Senate, taking office nearly four years after State Sen. Mildred Barry Hughes (D-Union) lost re-election.

DeMarco never sought office again.  English ran for Congress in 1972 and lost an open seat to State Sen. Matthew Rinaldo (R-Union) by a 63%-36% margin.  She later served as counsel to Gov. Brendan Byrne and as state Commissioner of Environmental Protection.

LaSpina ran for Essex County Freeholder in 1977 on a line with gubernatorial candidate C. Robert Sarcone but lost the GOP primary.

DeMarco and English were sworn in on November 15 and served until the end of the legislative term on January 11, 1972.

Republicans had won all six seats in 1967, and three of the incumbents were seeking re-election.

Essex County Democratic Chairman Harry Lerner gave the organization line to: Freeholder Director Wynona M. Lipman (who would become the second woman and second Black to serve in the New Jersey Senate); Assemblyman Frank “Pat” Dodd (D-Orange), Irvington Councilman Henry Smolen; and two South Orange attorneys, Ralph DeRose, who had been an aide to State Sen. Donal Fox (D-South Orange) and nearly won a 1969 race for Essex County Supervisor, and former Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Martin Greenberg.

Joel Jacobson, a labor leader – he had served as state CIO president before the merger with the AFL — mounted an off-the-line bid for State Senate on a ticket with Newark City Council President Louis M. Turco.  Three other Democrats joined Jacobson and Turco on their slate: Irvington Board of Education secretary-business manager Michel A. Blasi, the former nine-term president of the International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Local 430; former Newark Fireman’s Mutual Benefit Association Local 4 President Francis X. McCarthy; and former Newark Police Captain Edward Williams.

(When the Newark riots started in 1967, Mayor Hugh Addonizio had appointed Williams as the city’s first Black police captain with the hope that the move would placate rioters.  Williams served as the police department’s director of community relations.)

The insurgent Democratic slate did not include a candidate for Dowd’s vacant seat, so DeMarco was unopposed in the primary.

Lerner’s line prevailed by a 2-1 margin.  Jacobson came in seventh, 7,207 votes behind Smolen.

Democrats won three of the five Essex Senate seats – incumbents Michael Giuliano (R-Bloomfield) and James Wallwork (R-Short Hills) were re-elected.  DeRose and Dodd won, and Lipman ousted State Sen. Milton Waldor (R-West Orange) by 908 votes for the fifth seat.

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