Home>Governor>Dover aldermen table former governor’s bid for town administrator

Then- Senate Majority Leader John O. Bennett III, left with Assembly Speaker Chuck Haytaian and Rep. Dick Zimmer at a bill signing with Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in the 1990s. (Photo: Center for the American Governor, Eagleton Institute of Politics/Rutgers University.)

Dover aldermen table former governor’s bid for town administrator

John O. Bennett III did not have the votes to get the job at Monday evening meeting

By David Wildstein, September 08 2020 10:55 pm

A move to hire former Acting Gov. John O. Bennett III as the Dover town administrator failed tonight when some aldermen pushed back.

The resolution was tabled and a special meeting was set for Thursday evening when Bennett will be back on the agenda.

Bennett, 72, served as Co-Senate President from 2002 to 2004 after the 2001 election produced a Senate with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats.

He served as acting governor for 84 hours in 2002 between the time Gov. Donald DiFrancesco left office and the inauguration of Gov. James E. McGreevey.

Bennett has been unemployed since January, when he was let go from his post as the business administrator in Woodbridge.   He is still the municipal attorney in Keansburg.

Since losing his State Senate seat in 2003, Bennett has also served as administrator in Oceanport and Lavallette.

Once one of New Jersey’s most powerful politicians, Bennett had served a decade in the State Assembly before winning a 1989 special election for State Senate.  He served as Senate Majority Leader from 1994 to 2002.

The 84-hour Bennett administration was full of hoopla and fanfare.

He moved into Drumthwacket, printed letterhead, and had pens made that said “John O. Bennett III, Acting Governor” to use when he signed his name to official documents.  He delivered the State of the State address to the Legislature, hosted an engagement party for his daughter at the governor’s mansion, and issued daily schedules for himself and his wife, the Acting First Lady.

He even pardoned an old friend and campaign contributor.

The definitive historical account of the Bennett governorship was written by the New York Times’ David Kocieniewski, who said Bennett carried himself “with the measured exuberance of a high school yearbook advisor” and said that John and Peggy Bennett “toured New Jersey like a conquering Caesar visiting the provinces.”

After his 84-hour term ended, Bennett returned to the Senate.

He got himself in a little trouble – political, ultimately not legal — over billing practices at his law firm.

Throughout the 2003 campaign, Bennett faced a seemingly daily barrage of media attention – mostly from the local Asbury Park Press newspaper – attacking Bennett’s ethics and allegations that he over-billed municipalities that he represented as an attorney.

Held to 59% in the Republican primary, Bennett then lost the general election to Democrat Ellen Karcher by 4,574 votes.  His 42.5% of the vote reflected a drop of 16 percentage points from his 2001 total.

Bennett became the first sitting Senate President to lose his own seat in at least 100 years.

He later won a seat on the Republican State Committee and had a short tenure as the Monmouth County Republican Chairman.

Bennett was hired as the Oceanport administrator in 2014, where he also doubled as public works director while still serving as a municipal attorney for Colts Neck and Keansburg.

Bennett, who likes to be called ‘governor,’ regularly sits on panels of former governors at the New Jersey League of Municipalities Convention every November.  He also enjoys sitting with the other former governors at the annual State of the State message to a joint session of the New Jersey Legislature.

He did not attend Gov. Phil Murphy’s outdoor budget address at Rutgers University last month.

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