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Peter V. Mancuso has been a fixture in Morris County politics since he started out protesting the state’s plans to extend Route 24 to Route 287 in the 1970’s.
Now one of the last surviving members of the John Dorsey/Tony Bucco era is barely ahead and awaiting a final count to determine whether he remains on the Morris Township Committee.
Mancuso, 82, has a 48-vote lead in his bid for re-election, 3,111 to 3,063, over Democrat Bud Ravitz.
County election officials have not begun to count 173 provisionals and about 100 new vote-by-mail ballots that arrived after Election Day.
Mancuso was a Wall Street guy, a stockbroker who commuted to Manhattan every day while maintaining a hectic political schedule back in Convent Station.
His anger over the Route 24 extension – and his frustration that local politicians let state officials push them around – led him to challenge incumbent Township Committee members in the 1978 Republican primary.
Mayor Peter O’Hagan, who was Mancuso’s real target, was the top vote-getter. Mancuso finished second, defeating incumbent William Calvin by about 90 votes. A fourth candidate finished far behind.
In the general election, Mancuso finished first – more than 100 votes ahead of O’Hagan – and beat Democrats Dennis Kwasnik and Edward Henry by more than 1,800 votes.
Mancuso became increasingly involved in county politics, serving finance chairman for Dean Gallo’s first two congressional campaigns, and as finance chairman of the Morris County Republican Committee. He served as finance chairman for the New Jersey Republican State Committee in the 1990s.
After nearly nine years in local government – and three stints as mayor – Mancuso took a shot at higher office. He challenged three-term State Sen. John Dorsey (R-Boonton) in the Republican primary.
Mancuso said that Dorsey could have done more to reduce the effect of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel ruling on municipalities, and though Dorsey could have fought harder than he did to stop the Route 24 extension.
Dorsey had intra-party problems. He had unsuccessfully sough to remove C. Richard Kamin as Morris County Republican Chairman and opposed the reappointment of a county prosecutor he didn’t like.
In the primary, Dorsey defeated Mancuso by 2,408 votes, a 40%-40% win. But the primary softened up Dorsey, who won his 25th district seat with just 52.7% against Democrat Gordon MacInnes, a former assemblyman.
When Gallo, fighting prostate cancer, announced in August 1994 that he was dropping his bid for re-election to a sixth term in Congress, Mancuso flirted with a run at a special convention to pick a new GOP candidate. He opted out, clearing the path for Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) to run.
What Mancuso really wanted was a Senate seat.
After MacInnes ousted Dorsey, the sitting Senate Majority Leader, in 1993, Mancuso began to think seriously about running for office again.
But Bucco outmaneuvered him.
After Frelinghuysen won the congressional seat, there was a special election convention for the open 25th district State Assembly seat.
Bucco, who had lost two consecutive freeholder races, defeated Mancuso’s candidate, Morris Township Mayor Richard Watson, by 30 votes, 146 to 116.
As an assemblyman Bucco also set his sights on MacInnes.
So did Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Township), Sheriff Ed Rochford, former Assemblyman James Barry (R-Harding), and two Morris County Freeholders — James O’Brien and Chris Christie.
In the end, it was a two-man race. Bucco beat Mancuso by 2,009 votes – 56%-44%.
Mancuso went off the grid for another decade before emerging as a candidate for Republican State Chairman in 2007. Incumbent Tom Wilson beat him, 28-10.
Refocusing his career on local politics after a 23-year hiatus, Mancuso, then 73, came back in 2010 and won a seat on the Morris Township Committee. He got to be mayor again and was re-elected twice.