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Assemblyman James Zangari (D-Irvington). (Photo: Zangari Family.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Some Lessons Last the Test of Time

By Kevin O'Toole, May 05 2021 12:01 am

In the early 1990’s, I was an aide to State Assemblyman John V. Kelly (R-Nutley) — he won his first term in 1981, lost in 1983 and beat Steve Adubato Jr. (D-Montclair) in 1985 — held that assembly seat until 2002.  I remember (in the good ol’ days) there existed this thing called bi-partisanship and collegiality. In those days, which seems like a lifetime ago, Democrats and Republicans would work closely on many issues, fought publicly on a chosen few, and would openly spend time socializing with one another – with little or no distinction about party labels.

Clockwise, from top left: Kevin O’Toole, John V. Kelly, Joe Charles, Michael Adubato, Steve Adubato, Jr. Gerald Zecker, Louis Romano, and Anthony Impreveduto.

I vividly recall at one such event when a group of assembly members were gathered including, James Zangari (D-Irvington, 1980-1996), Michael Adubato (D-Newark, 1974-1992), Jerry Zecker (R-Clifton), 1984-2002), and a few state legislators from Hudson County joined the impromptu gathering, including Joe Charles (D-Jersey City, Assembly 82-02, Senate 02-03), Anthony Impreveduto (D-Secaucus, 88-04) and Lou Romano (D-West New York, 91-00). Assemblyman Zangari was a real firecracker who had this electric personality, kind of like Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro rolled into one. Zangari was smart and had a very high street IQ. Jimmy would walk into a room and own it.  Within an instant everyone knew he had arrived. As the esteemed Assemblyman was holding court this day, he made a few profound statements.

Most notably, he said in this life of ours we make enemies every day by the votes we cast, sometimes we will piss off nearly half of our voters. He went on to add that the trick to staying around in this business is not to make any more enemies that you absolutely need to. An obvious yet thought provoking statement. Translation: It is a natural and unavoidable dynamic that legislators will make enemies just by voting their conscience (and sometimes the non-negotiable party position), so we shouldn’t go out of our way to pick unnecessary fights with others as it will only lead to increasing your chances of losing support and the next election.

I made friends as much as possible, did not wade into silly fights, avoided the stupid votes that have no bearing on anything meaningful, and didn’t carry the blood feud or grudges of others (paging Pete Cammarano).

I believed in taking it one step further beyond “what not to do” to “what can you do,” such as helping as many as you can. That is usually why most people run for office in the first place — to help as many individuals as possible.

As primary election season is in full swing and votes are thrown in your face via mailers and video ads and you’re looking for friends to help your campaign withstand the onslaught, I hope you remember the words of Assemblyman Zangari.

P.S. Another profound statement made by Assemblyman Zangari, “good government is for the other person and pretty good government is for us.” I assume no translation is needed.

New Jersey State Assembly seating chart in 1997. (New Jersey Office of Legislative Services.)
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