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Trailblazing South Jersey Politician Dies

By David Wildstein, January 21 2018 11:33 am

Elwood Hampton, who became the first black Mayor of a South Jersey town that was 77% white – and later the first black Freeholder in Gloucester County, died on January 17.  He was 93.

As a young man growing up in Paulsboro, Hampton had recounted stories of having to sit in the balcony of a Philadelphia movie theater because he was black.

A labor leader, Hampton was elected to the Paulsboro Borough Council in 1971, defeating Republican incumbent John Burzichelli.  When Mayor Neil Dempsey was elected to the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders in 1974, Hampton became mayor.

Burzichelli was the father of Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro).

He was elected Mayor in 1974, winning an unexpired term by just 41 votes in a race against Burzichelli.   In 1975, Burzichelli defeated Hampton 545 votes.  Hampton returned to the Borough Council in 1977, winning by 63 votes against GOP incumbent John Minix.

In a 1979 rematch, Burzichelli beat Hampton by just 19 votes.  Hampton became Council President in 1980.

Hampton was appointed to the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders in early 1983, filling a seat left vacant when Donald Wagner became Surrogate.

He lost a bid to keep his seat in 1983, defeated by incumbent Republican Stephen Atkinson and newcomer Gary Stuhltrager.  Stuhltrager, who went on to serve sixteen years in the State Assembly, beat Hampton by 947 votes.

Hampton ran again for Mayor of Paulsboro in 1987, but lost another Burzichelli rematch – this time by 185 votes.

In January 1992, Hampton returned to the Borough Council when he was appointed to fill the seat of Democrat James Sabetta; Sabetta had beaten Burzichelli in the 1991 mayoral race.  Hampton and his running mate, now-Freeholder Bob Damminger, ran unopposed in the 1992 council race.  In 1995, Burzichelli’s son, John, now an Assemblyman, beat Sabetta; Hampton and Damminger were re-elected.  Burzichelli later switched parties.

Hampton resigned from the council at the end of 1997.

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Former Millburn Mayor Charles Thomas passed away on January 16.  He was elected to the Township Committee in 1969 and was Mayor from 1971 to 1975.  He was 89.

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