Home>Campaigns>The Caretakers: 18 interim N.J. legislators

Former Assemblywoman Elizabeth Cox. (Photo: Facebook).

The Caretakers: 18 interim N.J. legislators

By David Wildstein, April 10 2023 2:10 am

Next week, Jackie Yustein will join an exclusive club of interim lawmakers elected to fill vacancies with the intention to serve only a short time in the New Jersey Legislature.  The Glen Ridge Democrat will replace Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley) and serve the remaining nine months of his term.

Yustein is not seeking a full term in the upcoming primary or general elections and will depart office on January 9, 2024.   While her tenure will be brief, Yustein will be in office in time to vote on the new state budget and will serve during the lame-duck session of the 220th Legislature.   She will assemble a short voting record, perhaps get a bill with her name on it signed into law, drive a car with Assembly license plates if she wants, get letterhead, business cards, committee assignments, a district office, a prorated share of a legislator’s $49,000-a-year salary, and have lifetime floor privileges.

Here’s a primer on interim legislators who won special elections but did not see full terms:

1971: Charles DeMarco (D-Newark), an employee of the Essex County Clerk’s office, flipped the seat of Republican State Sen. David Dowd (R-Livingston), who had resigned in early 1971 to become general counsel to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.  DeMarco defeated Republican Nicholas LaSpina, a barber from Irvington who was elected Essex County Coroner in 1967 (the post stopped being an elected office soon after that), 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.  DeMarco never sought office again.

1971: 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.

In the same general election, the seat tiled back to the GOP when Republican Jerome Epstein (R-Scotch Plains), a Union County freeholder, edged out Democrat Carmine Liotta by 400 votes.  Epstein later went to prison after his conviction on piracy charges.

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.

1971: Republican Elizabeth Cox (R-Summit) held the seat vacated by Herbert Heilmann (R-Union), who resigned to become Assistant Commissioner of Labor in Gov. William Cahill’s administration.  She defeated Harry Foskey, a teacher from Westfield, by a 59%-36% margin.  Summit was redistricted in 1971, and Cox’s seat went to Arthur Manner (R-Berkeley Heights).

DeMarco, English, and Cox were elected on November 2, 1971, sworn in on November 15, and for 61 days until the end of the legislative term on January 11, 1972.

1973: Democrat William McCloud (D-Elizabeth), an Elizabeth city councilman, flipped the at-large Union County Senate seat Rinaldo, who had been elected to Congress in 1972.  He defeated Cox, who had sought a short stay n the State Senate, by a 59%-41% margin.   Elizabeth Mayor Thomas Dunn won the full Senate seat.  McCloud, who later served as a Superior Court Judge, was elected on November 6, 1973, took office on November 12, and served 60 days until his term expired on January 11, 1974. 

1975: Democrat Ronald Casella (D-Haddon Township), a 28-year-old lawyer, won the 5th district left vacant in 1974 when Jim Florio (D-Runnemede) was elected to Congress.  The full term went to Walter Rand (D-Camden), an Alcoholic Beverage Control Board investigator and future state senator.  Casella defeated Republican Harold Miller with 63% of the vote.  Casella was elected on November 4, 1975, sworn in on November 17, and served 63 days until his term expired on January 13, 1976.

1977: Democrat Stephen Kopycinski (D-Jersey City) won a 1977 special election to replace Joseph LeFante (D-Bayonne), who had been elected to Congress the previous year. Kopycinski’s wife, Therese Eggers Kopycinski, was a cousin of former Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague Eggers, the nephew of former Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague.  His father was a Jersey City councilman from 1964 to 1978.

Kopycinski won a Democratic primary on June 7 on a slate backed by Jersey City Mayor-elect Thomas F.X. Smith.  He defeated Frank Perrucci, the president of the Laborers’ International Union Local 102 and a top ally of Bayonne Mayor Dennis Collins, by a 46%-32% margin.  Future Bayonne Mayor Leonard Kiczek (17%) and colorful Bayonne raconteur James M. “JimJim” Deveney (6%)  

The special election was held on June 21, 1977 and Kopycinski won 72%-14% against Republican Edward Magee in a three-way race.   The primary for the full two-year term was won by Patrick Pasculli (D-Bayonne), an undertaker, and  Charles Mays, Sr. (D-Jersey City), a former U.S. Olympic long-jumper.

Kopycinski took office on June 27 and served 202 days until his term expired on January 10, 1978.  He later served as the Hudson County Undersheriff.

1977: Democrat Joseph Papasidero (D-Newark), a 27-year-old graduate student at Seton Hall University, won a special election to replace 28th district Assemblyman Patrick Scanlon (D-Newark), who had died in office.  He defeated Republican Larry Raymond with 66% of the vote.  Scanlon’s widow, Mary, won the full term in the 1977 general election.  Papasidero was elected on November 8, 1977, sworn in on November 22, and served 49 days until his term expired on January 10, 1978.

1979: Democrat Remay Pearce (D-Newark), a former maid and the granddaughter of slaves, was elected to replace Peter Shapiro (D-South Orange), who had been elected Essex County Executive the previous year.  She defeated Republican Joseph Soriano, a 63-year-old retired newscaster for two North Jersey radio stations, WNJR and WBNX, with 61% of the vote.  Two Democrats, Harry McEnroe (D-South Orange) and James Zangari (D-Irvington), for the 28th district Assembly seats in the same election. Pearce was elected on November 6, 1970, sworn in on November 19, and served 57 days until her term expired on January 15, 1980. 

1989: Even though he lost the election, Republican Paul Kapalko (R-Asbury Park) was able to serve as an interim assemblyman anyway. A former Asbury Park councilman, Kapalko finished 2,182 votes behind Democrat Daniel Jacobson (D-Asbury Park) in the general election, but in the same election, Joseph Palaia (R-Ocean Township) flipped the State Senate seat Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) gave up to go to Congress.  Kapalko won a November 25 special election convention to fill the remainder of Palaia’s Assembly term, was sworn in on November 27, and served in the Assembly for 43 days until his term expired on January 9, 1990.  The election of Kapalko was significant because Republicans were able to hold their 41-39 majority for another six weeks before Democrats took control. 

Kapalko challenged Pallone for a congressional seat in 1990 and came within 4,170 votes, 49%-47%, of winning.  He later served as an administrative law judge.

1991: Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu became a Democratic Assembly candidate in the 14th ditrict after incumbent Joseph Patero (D-Manville) was moved to the 16th in legislative reditricting.  He lost lost by 11,487  votes to Republican Barbara Wright (R-Plainsboro).  But on November 25, he took office as the new assemblyman from the old 14th following Patero’s resignation to jon the state Department of Labor.  He served as an assemblyman for 50 days before his term expired on January 15, 1992.

1997: After Assemblyman Jackie Mattison (D-Newark) resigned following his conviction on bribery charges, Essex County Democrats picked 27-year-old Alberto Coutinho (D-Newark) to replace him as an interim assemblyman; William Payne (D-Newark) was tapped to run for the full two-year term. He served for 236 days from May 22, 1997 to January 13, 1998.  A decade later, Coutinho came back and won the 29th district seat again, this time remaining as an assemblyman for nearly six years; he resigned in September 2013 after pleading guilty to theft and falsifying records related to a family-run non-profit. 

2001: After State Sen. Jack Sinagra (R-East Brunswick) left the Senate in October 2001 to become a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Republicans picked David Himelman (R-East Brunswick) to replace him.  Sinagra had already announced his retirement from the Senate, and Assemblywoman Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen) had won the 18th district Senate seat.

A former East Brunswick township attorney and deputy counsel to Gov. Tom Kean, Republicans went with Himelman (80) over longtime GOP State Committeeman Donald Katz (57), and John Cito (4), who had won 34% against Buono.  Himelman was elected on November 25, 2001 and sworn in on November 26.  He served in the Senate for 51 days until his term expired on January 15, 2022.

2003: After State Sen. Joseph Charles (D-Jersey City), the race for an open Senate seat in the 31st district featured a faceoff beteen Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham and Jersey City Council President L. Harvey Smith.  Smith had the organization line, but Cunningham beat him in the Democratic primary by a 48%-39% margin.  In October, after Charles resigned to become a Superior Court judge, Smith defeated Cunningham by a vote of 159 to 104 in a special electon convention to fill the unexpired term.  He was sworn in on November 24, 2003 and served in the Senate for 50 days before his term expired on January 13, 2004.  He became acting mayor following Cunningham’s death, and later went to the State Assembly.  He was acquitted of criminal charges related to Operation Bid Rig.

2005: Former Newark Deputy Mayor Evelyn Williams (D-Newark) had one of the shortest stays in the history of the New Jersey Legislature.  Assemblyman Donald Tucker (D-Newark) died in October and was re-elected posthumously in November.  Williams, a former Newark school board member and vice chair of the Essex County Democratic Committee.  She was sworn in as an assemblywoman on December 12, 2005.  But Wilson lasted just seven days as an assemblywoman before her arrest on shoplifting charges; she was accused of stealing a comforter from the Variety Fair in Irvington.  Two days later, the Essex County Corrections Department fired her after discovering that she filed for and received illegal pension checks from the state. In 2002, she was reprimanded while working for the county jail for escorting a member of a major drug ring to a concert.  She was replaced by Oadline Truitt (D-Newark), who lost the Democratic primary in 2007 to Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley) and Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark). 

2010: Patrick Delany (R-Lumberton) wasn’t supposed to be just caretaker, but an unfortunate event ended his career in the legislature.  Burlington County Republicans picked the former mayor of Lumberton and retired U.S. Navy lieutenant to replace Republican Assemblywoman Dawn Addiego (R-Evesham), who had moved up to the State Senate.  He was sworn in on December 13, 2010 and was preparing to seek a full term in 2011 when he abruptly dropped out and resigned on July 28 after 227 days in office.  The reason: his wife had sent a racially-charged email to Democrat Carl Lewis, a former Olympic athlete who was fighting a residency battle to get on the ballot as Addiego’s Senate opponent.  

2010: Kevin Ryan (D-Nutley),  41, a former aide to State Sen. Carmen Orechio and an Essex County Undersheriff, won a December 21, 2010 special election convention after Assemblyman Fred Scalera (D-Nutley) resigned.  He was sworn in on January 6, 2011 and was hoping for a second term when redistricting threw him a curveball and he stood down to allow Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville) to move to Nutley and seek re-election.  He served as the 36th district assemblyman for 370 days until his term expired on January 10, 2012.  Ryan died in 2018.  

2011: After Pat Delany’s unexpected departure, the Burlington GOP picked former Mount Laurel Mayor Gerry Nardelllo (R-Mount Laurel) on August 11, 2011 to serve as an interim assemblywoman and Freeholder Chris Brown (R-Evesham) as the candidate for the full term.  Nardello was sworn in on November 21 and served in the legislature for 50 days before leaving office on January 10, 2012. 

2013: The most recent caretaker assemblyman was a man whose legislative career had begun 40 years earlier: Paul Contillo (D-Paramus).  Contillo was elected to the Assembly in 1973, lost his seat in 1979, and then came back and unseated State Sen. John Paolella (R-Hackensack) in 1983.  He lost his Senate seat in the 1991 anti-Jim Florio Republican wave election. 

Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Paramus) had dropped her re-election bid in 2013 — she was replaced by Paramus Councilman (now state senator) Joe Lagana (D-Paramus) — and then decided to resign on October 1.  Bergen County Democrats met on October 20 and picked the 84-year-old Contillo as their caretaker legislator; he was sworn in on November 18 and returned to the Assembly for 47 days before his term expired on January 14, 2014.  


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