James H. Wallwork, an Essex County Republican who spent fourteen years in the New Jersey Senate and two in the State Assembly, is celebrating his 91st birthday today.
Wallwork is one of two living members of the Senate Class of 1967 – the first Senate elected following a 1966 Constitutional Convention formed under court order to reapportion the legislature following the U.S. Supreme Court’s One Man, One Vote decision.
Frank Guarini, who turned 97 last month, is the other living member of the Senate He is New Jersey’s oldest-living and longest-serving senator – he won a Hudson seat in 1965 — with Wallwork in second place.
Widely viewed as a “Boy Scout,” during his time in the legislature, Wallwork had built a reputation for rigid integrity and a commitment to keeping the cost of government under control. He used to return 10% of his salary to the Senate. He was also an exceptional retail campaigner, known for handing out potholders at supermarkets.
A West Point graduate, Wallwork was 33 when he won a State Assembly seat in 1963, when Essex had nine lower house seats, all elected in countywide elections. Democrats had won eight of the seats in 1961 — C. Robert Sarcone was the lone Republican winner – and the GOP was looking to pick up seats in Democratic Gov. Richard Hughes’ midterm election.
Wallwork, who was living in Montclair, finished seventh in a field of 40 candidates for the nine Assembly seats. Republicans won five of the nine seats, with three Democratic assemblymen being unseated. Sarcone won a Senate seat that year, defeating Assembly Speaker Elmer Matthews.
In his bid for a second term in 1965, Hughes carried Essex County by 69,749 votes, 61%-37%, against Republican Wayne Dumont. On Hughes’s coattails, Democrats swept all nine seats – among the winners were future Senate President Pat Dodd and future Essex County Sheriff John F. Cryan – and Wallwork lost.
But two years, Wallwork came back as a candidate for State Senate. He was the top vote-getter in a hotly-contested Republican primary for six Essex Senate seats, all elected at-large. In the general election, Republicans swept all six seats, with four incumbent Democratic senators losing re-election.
Wallwork held his Senate seat in 1971, the last election where Essex senators ran countywide. He finished third in of fourteen candidates for five seats. Democrats won three of the five seats, launching the Senate careers of Wynona Lipman and Ralph DeRose, who would later emerge as a serious contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Despite the Watergate wave of 1973, Wallwork held his seat by a 54%-46% margin. The Assembly Speaker, Thomas Kean, was his running mate in the newly-drawn 25th district, which went from Millburn to Wayne. He won 60% against Lewis Paper, a former U.S. Senate staffer, in 1977.
Wallwork sought the Republican nomination for governor twice. He finished fourth in an eight-candidate field in 1981, and third in a five-candidate race in 1993.
Editor’s note: David Wildstein, the editor of the New Jersey Globe, was a legislative aide to Wallwork in the early 1970s, starting at age 12. It was his first job in New Jersey politics and had an annual salary of $100.