Some random things about Walter Reed Gusciora: he first emerged as a formidable activist in the late 1980’s when he used his position as vice president of the Jamesburg High School student council to lead the fight against plans to close the school and send their students to Highland Park.
After college, he worked on the staff of Rep. Mike Synar (D-Oklahoma), who was 28 when he ousted a two-term congressman in the Democratic primary after voters heard the incumbent had a heart-shaped waterbed in his Washington apartment.
Gusciora lost his first campaign 30 years: in 1988, as a 28-year-old law student, he sought the Democratic nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 4th district, where Republican Christopher Smith, 35, was a four-term incumbent. Gusciora challenged Betty Holland, the wife of then-Trenton mayor Arthur Holland, at the Mercer County Democratic convention; Holland won by a vote of 113 to 16, with one vote going to a third announced candidate, Marlboro mayor Saul Hornick. Gusciora withdrew from the race and signed on as campaign manager for Holland. Gusciora tried to get Smith to agree to five debates, but the incumbent went for just one. Smith beat Holland by a 2-1 margin.
In 1989, Gusciora worked on the campaign of Princeton mayor Barbara Bogs Sigmund for the Democratic nomination for governor. Sigmund lost to Rep. Jim Florio, finishing second ahead of former Assembly Speaker Alan Karcher. Karcher later moved from Sayreville to Princeton, became the Mercer County Democratic Chairman, and a Gusciora supporter.
In 1995, Gusciora was the attorney for the plaintiff two Office of Legislative Services (OLS) staffers who alleged that a supervisor had sexually harassed them.
Six years later, when freshman Assemblyman Joseph Yuhas decided not to seek re-election to a second term, Gusciora leveraged the connections he made as a political operative into the Democratic nomination for State Assembly in the then-competitive 15th district. He ran with Assemblywoman Shirley Turner and beat former Mercer County Freeholder Joe Constance by 3,975 votes. Two years later, when Turner ousted Republican State Sen. Richard LaRossa, Gusciora was joined on the Assembly ticket by Bonnie Watson Coleman.
During his first days in the Legislature, Gusciora accused the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority of setting aside hundreds of tickets for politicians for the Final Four games scheduled at the Meadowlands Arena.
In 2000, Gusciora ran for Congress against Smith, by then an entrenched 20-year incumbent. While Al Gore won the district, 52%-48%, Smith was re-elected with 63%.
Gusciora sought the Democratic nomination for mayor of Princeton Borough in 2003, when Marvin Reed – who had become mayor when Sigmund died of cancer in 1990 at age 51 — retired. He lost to Councilman Joseph O’Neill, who was once the president of Hudson County Community College, by just 83 votes.
When legislative redistricting pushed Princeton into the 16th district in 2011, Gusciora moved to Trenton to keep his old seat; the alternative would have been to challenge Republican incumbents Peter Biondi and Jack Ciattarelli in a district that would not trend Democratic for another four years.