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Jane Burgio served in the New Jersey State Assembly from 1974 to 1982 and as New Jersey Secretary of State from 1982 to 1990. Photo courtesy of a private collection.

The time Tom Giblin ran against Tom Kean

How Republicans filled late vacancies for two GOP Assembly seats

By David Wildstein, September 04 2019 11:07 am

The deadline to replace candidates on the general election ballot is coming up next week, and so far, there doesn’t appear to be any big changes on the horizon.

Rumors that State Sen. Anthony R. Bucco (R-Boonton) would resign so that his son, Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) could replace him,  never panned out.

One old-time last-minute switch came 46 years ago, when 26-year-old Tom Giblin was challenging then-Assembly Speaker Tom Kean (R-Livingston).

Just before Labor Day in 1973, Assemblyman Philip Kaltenbacher (R-Short Hills) announced that he would not seek re-election to a fourth term, leaving Kean without running mate.

In a state where the relationship between Assembly running mates is often extraordinarily toxic, Kean and Kaltenbacher were genuinely close friends.  Eight years later, when Kean secured the Republican gubernatorial nomination, he picked Kaltenbacher as his GOP State Chairman.

The cycle was already beginning to look bad for Republicans, with polls showing Democrat Brendan Byrne with a growing lead over Republican Charles Sandman.  Sandman had ousted incumbent Gov. William Cahill in the Republican primary.  Kaltenbacher was the fourth Republican legislator to withdraw from the race after the primary.

The Watergate scandal was just beginning to suck the oxygen out of the New Jersey GOP.

The Essex-based 25th district was drawn in 1973 to be Republican: Maplewood, Millburn, Livingston, and the West Essex towns were still solid GOP towns.  So where Wayne in Passaic County, and Pequannock and Lincoln Park in Morris.  Indeed, there wasn’t a Democratic town in the entire district.

When the district was created, there was a third incumbent in the race: Michael Horn (R-Wayne) won a 1972 special election to replace John Evers (R-Wayne).  Evers had resigned to become Cahill’s chief counsel.

After being placed in an Essex district in 1973, Horn was the odd man out in a district that had three incumbent assemblymen.  He decided to retire rather that run against Kean and Kaltenbacher in the Republican primary.

When Kaltenbacher changed his mind about running, Horn might have been the obvious choice.  By that time, Horn had made plans for a post-legislative life and wasn’t available to run.

Twelve candidates came forward to run with Kean against Giblin and his running mate, Nicholas Saleeby.

Passaic County decided they wanted the seat – Wayne was the largest municipality in the district – and got behind Wayne Republican Municipal Chairman and Councilman Joseph Vadala.

Essex was a free-for-all.

Two former assemblymen entered the race: Mario Genova, the Maplewood Republican Municipal Chairman who had served in the Legislature from 1964 to 1966 and  vice president of the International Union of Electrical Workers Local 430; and Ralph Caputo, who had represented the Newark North Ward district from 1968 to 1972 and had then moved to West Caldwell.

Maplewood had three other candidates: Township Committeeman Jack Freeman; attorney John Patton; Alfred Benjamin.  Millburn had also fielded three candidates: Dr. Lawrence Miller, who had been the GOP nominee for freeholder in 1968 against Wynona Lipman; Republican Club President Jeff Ruddy; and businessman Michael Francis, who would later serve as Essex County Republican Chairman and New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority Chairman.

Two candidates came out of Livingston: Helen Szabo, an aide to Kean; and John Bender, who had unsuccessfully challenged Rep. Florence Dwyer (R-Elizabeth) in the 1968 Republican primary.  Another candidate was Michael Intile, a member of the Fairfield Planning Board.

From that pack, former Essex County Republican Vice Chair Jane Burgio emerged as the Essex candidate for Assembly.  She had served as West Caldwell Republican Municipal Chair for four years and as a member of the Essex County Board of Elections.  Her sister, Ruth Bedford, was a Republican insider and the wife of Superior Court Judge Stanley Bedford.

The race turned out to be close after a deal between Passaic and Morris County Republicans.

In the next-door 24th district, State Sen. Peter Thomas (R-Chatham) had dropped his re-election  bid after the primary to become a Superior Court Judge.  Assemblyman James Vreeland (R-Montville) easily moved into the Senate race, leaving a vacant seat on the State Assembly ticket in a Morris-based district that included Summit in Union County and several towns in Passaic County.

Morris County Republican Chairman Richard Seabury wanted Vreeland’s replacement to come from Morris.  The other Republican candidate in the 24th, former Republican State Committee Executive Director Barbara Curran, was from Summit.  Democratic Assemblyman John Sinsimer (D-Pompton Lakes) had also been placed in Morris-based district when the new map was drawn and was trying to win a second term.

Passaic County Sheriff  Frank Davenport, the GOP County Chairman, thought the chances of taking out Sinsimer would be improved by running a Passaic Republican against him.

Davenport and Seabury cut a two-district deal: Passaic would stay out of the 24th and Morris would back Vadala for Assembly in the 25th.

A showdown between Burgio and Vadala came on September 20.  Burgio won by just seven votes, 77-68.

On the same night as the special Republican convention to pick Kean’s running mate, Giblin had a $25-per-person fundraiser that drew a crowd of more than 300.  Former Gov. Richard Hughes was the main draw, and Senate Minority Leader J. Edward “Concrete Eddie” Crabiel (D-Milltown) was in attendance.

Kean won his fourth Assembly term in a landslide, besting Saleeby by 8,019 votes.

Burgio won by 1,079 votes against Giblin, a difference of less than one percent.  In a head to head matchup, Burgio won 50.9%.

She won the Essex towns by 1,717, while Giblin beat Burgio in Morris by 412 and in Wayne by 226.

Burgio served eight years in the Assembly.  She didn’t seek re-election in 1981 legislative redistricting when North Caldwell was placed in an overwhelmingly Passaic district and then went on to serve eight years as Kean’s Secretary of State.

Giblin was elected to the Essex County Board of Freeholders in 1977, and later served a Surrogate, Essex County Democratic Chairman, and Democratic State Chairman before winning an Assembly seat in 2005.

Three Republicans entered the race to replace Vreeland on the Assembly ticket: Kinnelon Board of Education President Ralph Ferrara; Florham Park Republican Municipal Chair Marjorie Manvel; and Parsippany Board of Education member John Kroeger.

Kroeger had challenged Vreeland and Curran in the Republican primary and lost by 2,258 votes.

At a special convention, Ferrara led Manvel on the first ballot 65-55, with Kroeger receiving 32 votes.  Ferrara won on the second ballot against Manvel, 87-67.

The general election in the 24th was exceedingly close.

Sinsimer finished first, 70 votes ahead of Curran.  Curran beat Charles M. Kennedy, the Parsippany Board of Education Treasurer, by just 203 votes.  Ferrara finished 399 votes behind Kennedy.

In 1975, Sinsimer lost re-election to Republican Dean Gallo, a Morris County Freeholder.

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