Home>Highlight>Rice got it wrong: Union County elected their first black county chairman in 1977

State Sen. Ronald L. Rice. Photo by Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe.

Rice got it wrong: Union County elected their first black county chairman in 1977

George Woody won the post 36 years before Jerry Green did

By David Wildstein, April 18 2019 9:35 am

State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark) had his facts wrong yesterday when he told InsiderNJ that Jerry Green was the first black Union County Democratic chairman.

That happened 42 years ago.

Donald Lan was stepping down as county chairman in 1977 after Gov. Brendan Byrne nominated him for New Jersey Secretary of State.

Roselle Democratic municipal chairman George Woody became the first black county chairman when he defeated Union County freeholder John Mollozzi by 93 votes, 285 to 192.

On the day before the county chairman vote, Mollozzi’s cousin and law partner, David Conti, scored an upset win in a race for Elizabeth Democratic municipal chairman.  Conti had challenged Elizabeth mayor Tom Dunn in the 1976 Democratic primary.   Conti was only able to deliver a 16-vote margin to Mollozzi.

Linden mayor John Gregorio delivered Mollozzi 42 out of 46 votes.  Gregorio also an assemblyman, was the Democratic candidate for State Senate after Union County Democrats decided to withdraw party support for Dunn to win a second term in the Senate.

Mollozzi had a bad year in 1977: he had initially run for State Senate after incumbent Alexander Menza (D-Hillside) announced he would not seek re-election.  When party leaders decided to go with Union Township committeeman Anthony Russo, Mollozzi decided to run for Assembly.  Democrats gave the line to Hillside mayor Vincent Baldassano and former Cranford mayor Daniel Mason.

Also elected in 1977 was the legendary Charlotte DeFilippo, who would later become one of the most power county chairs in the state.  She ran in a contested race for Union County Democratic Committee comptroller and ousted incumbent Thomas DeLuca.

With the re-election of Republican county chair Barbara Claman, Union County had a black and a woman leading the two county party organizations at a time when Union was a highly competitive swing county.

Claman was re-elected by 40 votes over Alfonso Pisano.  She had backed Tom Kean for the Republican gubernatorial nomination that year – Kean carried Union County by 474 votes over Raymond Bateman – angering State Sen. Peter McDonough (R-Plainfield), who was Bateman’s campaign manager.

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