The photo Ravi Bhalla tweeted today of four Hoboken mayors having lunch at Del Frisco’s Grille reminded me of a classic freshman legislator story. Since this was swearing in week in Trenton, it’s an appropriate time to retell it.
This is a two mayors named Peter Cammarano kind of story, and to be clear, we’re not talking about former Hoboken Mayor Patrick L. Pasculli, who is in Bhalla’s photo. This one is about Patrick C. Pasculli, a 39-year-old undertaker from Bayonne.
There is, like always, a back story that needs to come first.
For decades, Democrats across the nation marveled at the precision of the Hudson County Democratic machine run by Jersey City Mayor Frank “I am the Law” Hague. Hague’s successor was John V. Kenny, who got elected as a reformer and then ran the machine nearly as effectively as Hague until his criminal conviction 22 years later.
Dr. Paul Jordan beat the organization and was elected Mayor in 1971 and 1975. In 1977, he was one of ten Democrats to challenge Brendan Byrne in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
In May, a month before the primary election, City Clerk Thomas F.X. Smith beat Jordan’s hand-picked successor (William Macchi, the Jersey City Director of Human Resources) by a 54%-26% margin.
That triggered a realignment in Jersey City politics. Jordan was left without any real organizational support in Hudson County. He quickly dropped out of the race for Governor.
Now he HCDO line had a hole at the top of the ticket, as the lemmings ran quickly over to the Smith camp.
The incumbent Democratic State Chairman was Jim Dugan, a Bayonne Democrat who was serving his second term as the State Senator from the 31st district. Smith supporter Walter Sheil won the four-candidate Senate primary with 49%; Dugan finished third with just 20% of the vote.
The same thing happened in the adjoining 32nd district, where State Sen. Joseph Tumulty, the scion of an old Jersey City political family, lost renomination to David Friedland. Friedland had left the State Assembly four years earlier after crafting a deal to make Republican Tom Kean the Speaker. With the backing of the Mayor-elect, Friedland beat Tumulty by a 77%-23% margin.
The wave extended to the Assembly primary races as well. In District 32, Tom Cowan and Bob Janiszewski – backed by Smith – beat incumbents Michael Esposito and Alina Miszkiewicz by 2-1 margins.
In the 31st, Pasculli and Charles Mays, a former track star who competed on the 1968 U.S. Olympic team in Mexico City, easily defeated incumbent William Perkins and two-term Jersey City Councilman Morris Pesin. (He’s the namesake of the road in Liberty State Park.)
So now Pasculli is a new Assemblyman. And to get from Bayonne to Trenton, he had to drive his black Cadillac up and down the New Jersey Turnpike. Forty years ago, it cost about $2.30 each way. And some weeks he was doing the trip twice; that’s $9.20 a week, just on tolls.
In those days, legislators got a telephone credit card – anyone who ever worked on a legislative staff in the days before cellular telephones will tell you that the phone card was a better perk than dental benefits – a bunch of postage stamps (there are stories for another day of some legislators selling those stamps) – and even a New Jersey Transit rail pass.
So Pasculli’s first initiative as a newly-elected Assemblyman was to introduce a bill that would give legislators free rides on the Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and the Atlantic City Expressway.
I will always remember Pasculli’s spin: it wasn’t about the money, it was about the principle.
Pasculli was excoriated for his proposal, which embarrassed Assembly Speaker Christopher Jackman of West New York, The following year, the Hudson County Democratic Organization refused to support Pasculli for re-election. That opened an Assembly seat for a promising young Democrat from Bayonne named Joseph Doria.
After that, Democrats took care of Pasculli, getting him a job at the New Jersey Veterans Cemetery. He surfaced one last time, in 1992, as an independent candidate for Congress in the 4th district. Chris Smith beat Brian Hughes (now the Mercer County Executive) by a 61%-35% margin. Pasculli finished fourth, with .89% of the vote.