Burton W. Sebold, a Korean War veteran and loyal Democrat who spent nearly fifty years in local politics with a fervent dedication to his cause, a pleasing personality, and solid personal integrity, passed away on Friday after an illness. He was 84.
He was the husband of Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold, who was literally and figuratively his running mate. They ran together for the Livingston Democratic County Committee starting in 1972. Sebold was a constant figure in local campaigns for five decades, both as leader in electing Democrats to local office and as a community leader serving on the Livingston Recreation Advisory Committee.
His first Livingston campaign came in June 1970 when Pat Sebold ran for the Livingston Democratic County Committee off the line under the slogan “Concerned Democrat” and swamped organization candidate Rose Vallella with a massive 74% of the vote, 166-58.
In 1972, Pat and Burt Sebold became involved in George McGovern’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. While an organization slate of candidates opposed to McGovern and still pushing to nominate Hubert Humphrey won 14 of 15 Essex County delegate slots, Livingston went 2-1 for McGovern. Sebold was elected to the Democratic County Committee that year.
The early 1970’s was a time of transition for Livingston Democrats, who had won council seats for the first time in 1964, held them in 1968, and then lost them in 1972 in a race that returned the local Republicans to 5-0 control. There were internal battles, sometimes heated, for control of the local Democratic organization that included annual fights for county committee seats back in a time when district leaders and municipal chairs served one-year terms.
In 1973, Sebold backed Livingston attorney Donald Coburn who ran off the organization line for the State Senate. Coburn lost the primary to Roseland councilman Joel Wasserman, and Livingston went for Wasserman by 738 votes, a 70-%-30% margin.
In that same election, Sebold lost his bid for re-election to the Democratic County Committee. Paul Lally defeated Burt Sebold by ten votes, 141-131, while Pat Sebold kept her seat.
He regained his seat in June 1974 and never lost an election again. Democrats won three seats on the Livingston Township Council in November 1974, and under the leadership of Pat and Burt Sebold, Livingston Democrats have held majority control for 42 of the last 44 years.
The political influence of Pat and Burt Sebold spiked in 1978 when they played a major role in electing the first Essex County Executive. The Sebold’s backed 26-year-old Assemblyman Peter Shapiro (D-South Orange), who carried all 21 of Livingston’s voting districts with a 70%-24% win against the candidate backed by the Essex County Democratic organization, Sheriff John Cryan. Livingston delivered Shapiro a 1,245-vote plurality. Shapiro beat Cryan in the Democratic primary by just 2,147 votes countywide.
Later, Burt Sebold was by his wife’s side through a string of nine consecutive wins in races for Essex County Freeholder-At-Large – all of them landslides. With the support of her husband, Pat Sebold is one of the longest-serving freeholders in Essex County history.
Born and raised in Newark, Sebold graduated Weequahic High School, served two years in the U.S. Army in Korea, and then graduated from Upsala College. He spent his career with Wakefern Food Corp., and then joined Essex County as director of the Economic Development. He attended five Democratic National Conventions.
On a personal note, I met Pat and Burt Sebold for the first time in 1973. I liked Burt right away. He was always kind, humorous, and though-provoking. Even more than a decade later, when local politics became more intense, Burt never changed. Pat and I did not get along, but I respected her – and quite frankly, she was the only one who frightened me because her political instincts were so sharp. She and I had a chance to spend time this summer taking about some of the history we shared during a brief time in our lives. I wish I had sought out her friendship decades earlier.
I will always remember Burt Sebold fondly. My heart goes out to Pat and the rest of the Sebold family for their personal loss, and to the people of Livingston for the loss of a very good man.