Carmen Orechio, a former Senate President who spent forty years in Nutley local politics, passed away today. He was 91.
Orechio launched his political career in 1968 when he won his first of nine elections as a Nutley Commissioner. He became Mayor in 1972 and ran for State Senator in 1973 as a Democrat and unseated two-term GOP incumbent Michael Giuliano.
He served as Senate Majority Leader before becoming Senate President in 1982. He held that post for four years.
Orechio served as a Nutley Commissioner from 1968 until his defeat in 2008 by just 29 votes. He served a total of twelve years as Mayor of Nutley.
Orechio held a Senate seat in a district that was politically competitive through his entire eighteen-year legislative career. He held the seat by a 51%-49% margin in 1977 against Republican Assemblyman Jack Dennis, the owner of the Verona-based Annin Flag Company, and by a 49%-48% margin in 1981 against Bloomfield Councilman John Crecco.
In 1983, Democrats had a 21-19 majority in the State Senate. Republicans viewed their road to control through the Senate President’s district. In one of the most expensive legislative races of that era, Orechio won a solid 5,090 vote victory against Republican Ralph Salerno – 54%-44%. He beat future Superior Court Judge Thomas Zampino by 2,494 votes (40%-44%) in 1987, when former Republican Bloomfield Mayor John Kinder took nearly 2,400 votes as an independent.
Orechio retired from the Senate in 1991 after legislative redistricting literally moved the 30th district to Ocean and Burlington counties. He decided not to challenge State Sen. Gabriel Ambrosio (D-Lyndhurst) in the Democratic primary. Ambrosio wound up losing the general election to Republican John Scott.
A town of 27,362 people in northeastern Essex County, Nutley has a long tradition of clout and influence in state and county politics — largely through power of a bi-partisan local political machine run for more than thirty years by the eldest of the Orechio brothers, Frank Orechio, who leveraged a chain of weekly newspapers in Nutley, Belleville, Bloomfield and Glen Ridge to help deliver votes to the candidates of his choice.
Critics had long complained that the Orechio media empire — for a time in the 1970’s and 1980’s it included a cable television station — was a blatant conflict of interest because of the positions the Orechio family held at different levels of government.
Carmen Orechio ran for the State Assembly in 1969 but lost to the Republican incumbents, Ralph Caputo and Richard Fiore. Caputo is now a Democratic Assemblyman from Nutley.
In 1971, Orechio’s brother Carl was elected to the State Assembly as a Republican. He survived the Democratic landslide two years later that swept Carmen into the Senate and served ten years as a GOP Assemblyman.
For nearly thirty years, candidates for state and county office made pilgrimages to Nutley to pay homage to Frank Orechio, whose endorsement often meant votes in a politically competitive region of Essex County. Regardless of which party was in control, the North Jersey Water Commission was long considered Orechio turf, and Kean later named Frank Orechio to serve as Chairman of the state Racing Commission. In 1998, the newspaper chain was sold to Macromedia, the parent company of The Record, for an undisclosed amount. He died in 1999, at age 81.