Essex County Executive
The County Executive of Essex County, New Jersey, United States is the chief officer of the county's executive branch and oversees the administration of county government. Approved in a 1977 referendum, the office was inaugurated in 1978 at the same time the Board of Chosen Freeholders, which plays a legislative role, was reconfigured to include a mix of at-large and district seats. The executive offices are located in the county seat, Newark. When the first executive was elected in 1978, The New York Times described that the position was "considered by many to be second in power only to that of the Governor."
|County Executive of Essex County|
|Term length||Four years; renewable|
|Inaugural holder||Peter Shapiro|
The executive has power to appoint a County Administrator as well as department heads, subject to the approval of the Freeholder Board. Responsibilities include preparation/submission of operating and capital budgets, introduction of legislation, the hiring and dismissal of personnel, and approval or veto of Freeholder ordinances. The Board of Freeholders board have the power to investigate administrative actions of the executive, approve ordinances and resolutions, initiate service contracts with municipalities, and adopt an administrative code.
The executive is directly elected to a four-year term on a partisan basis. Since the first county executive took office, five individuals have served in the position, alternating between Democrats and Republicans. Incumbent Democrat Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. was elected county executive in 2002 and was reelected for a fourth term in November 2014, which ends December 31, 2018.
As of Election Day 2017 there were 491,941 registered voters in the county, the third-most of any county in the state which in 2016 had estimated an estimated population of 786,914, the third-largest county in New Jersey by population.
In 1972, the State of New Jersey passed the Optional County Charter Law, which provides for four different methods under which a county could be governed: by an executive, an administrator, a board president or a county supervisor.
A Charter Study Commission was formed in 1974 and was the only one of nine counties to consider changes that rejected the path of modifying the structure of county government. The six Democrats on the Charter Study Commission supported the status quo while the three Republicans were in favor of the proposed changes; The commission' s report concluded that "It is the recommendation of the Commission that none of the options is suitable for adoption by the County of Essex..."
In September 1975, a group called "Vote Yes", with support from the county's bipartisan conference of mayors and the non-partisan League of Women Voters submitted to the County Clerk petitions with nearly 62,000 signatures asking that a strong County Executive position be created, together with changes to the structure of the nine-member board of chosen freeholders in which four seats would be elected at-large and five from equal-sized districts; the signatures collected exceeded the minimum threshold of nearly 57,000 signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot, representing 15% of the 378,000 voters registered in the county. Despite the Democratic Party's longstanding control of the existing freeholder board, it was "good government Democrats" who had gathered the greatest number of signatures. After the County Clerk verified the signatures submitted by the renamed Citizens for Charter Change in Essex County, it was determined that the group was 8,500 signatures short of the minimum, as only 48,200 of the names on petitions could be verified against voter registration rolls. A three-judge panel gave the charter-change supporters an extension to gather the necessary petitions in enough time to have ballots printed, which never came to fruition.
A second initiative was begun by the bi-partisan Citizens for Charter Change in Essex County to get a referendum to modify Essex County government on the ballot, in the face of opposition from the establishment Democrats who had been in control of county government since 1969. In a June 1977 court ruling, it was determined that there were a sufficient number of signatures collected to get the initiative on the ballot. The chairman of the county Democratic Party vowed to "fight like hell" in opposition to the charter change, which he described as "a form of dictatorship", while the leader of a group opposed to the change, led by a freeholder not running for re-election, was against what he saw as the "establishment of an autonomous governmental czar who could reign unchecked over Essex County for four years."
The second referendum was held in November 1977 and the proposal to create an executive branch was passed by the voters 72,226 to 64,238. The change also modified the structure of the legislative branch, board of chosen freeholders, eliminating the position of county supervisor and changing the structure of the nine-member, at-large board of chosen freeholders so that four would remain at-large, while five would be elected from equal-sized districts. The first executive, Peter Shapiro, was elected in November 1978 and took office together on November 13 of that year, one week after election day, together with the nine newly elected freeholders.
Peter Shapiro had been the youngest person elected to serve in the New Jersey General Assembly and was one of the people who helped push through the change in the Essex County charter in 1977 creating the position of county executive. Shapiro ran for the new office, defeating Sheriff John F. Cryan, the candidate of the well-entrenched Democratic organization led by county chairman Harry Lerner in the primary, before knocking off Republican Robert F. Notte in the first general election for the post in November 1978. He took office with the nine newly elected members of the restructured freeholder board one week after election day, on November 13, 1978. Shapiro was reelected with 69% of the vote in the 1982 general election, defeating Republican James Troiano. During his tenure as county executive, he worked for administrative reform, reorganizing 69 agencies under 8 principal departments, leaving office as executive to run for Governor of New Jersey, unsuccessfully.
Democrat-turned-Republican Nicholas R. Amato, who had resigned as the Essex County Surrogate to run for office, was elected in 1986, knocking off Shapiro, who was running for a third term of office. Amato was able to capitalize on voter frustration with 22% increases in county tax rates and the division within the Demorcatic Party following Shapiro's overwhelming loss in the 1985 race for governor to Republican Thomas Kean by the largest margin of victory ever recorded for a gubernatorial race in New Jersey, 71%–24%. When Amato switched his registration back to the Democratic Party, he was unable to get official primary support in the primary and did not seek re-election in 1990.
Democrat Thomas D’Allesio was elected in 1990, having defeated Republican Michael Vernotico of Millburn. D'Allesio resigned from office in 1994 following his conviction on federal extortion charges.
Republican James W. Treffinger was elected in 1994, defeating Mayor Cardell Cooper, Democrat of East Orange. The Democrats had faced a challenge after Cooper and Thomas Giblin wound up tied with 22,907 votes in the June primary, after three recounts. A series of court battles ended in August with Cooper selected as the candidate, two months after the primary.
DiVincenzo was re-elected in 2006 with 121,490 votes (76.4% of the total), ahead of Republican Joseph Chiusolo with 32,728 (20.7%) and independents Donald Page 3,346 (2.0%) and George M. Tillman 1,349 (0.84%). He defeated Herbert Glenn in 2010 to win his third term in office, making him the longest-serving executive in county history. In 2010, DiVincenzo received 113,457 votes (75.1% of ballots cast), ahead of Glenn with 32,885 (21.8%) and Independent Marilynn M. English with 4,529 (3.0%). He won his fourth term in 2014 with a victory against Peter Tanella of Cedar Grove, by a margin of 95,574 to 28,683, taking 76.7% of the vote to 23.0% for Tanella.
- Narvaez, Alfonso A. "Shapiro Apparently Beats Notte In Essex County Executive Race", The New York Times, November 8, 1978. Accessed March 19, 2018. "Assemblyman Peter Shapiro, the Democrat, apparently defeated his Republican rival, Robert F. Notte, yesterday in the race for the newly created post of County Executive in Essex County. The post, considered by many to be second in power only to that of the Governor, was created in a restructuring of the operations of county government for the approximately one million residents of the county, which has an annual budget of more than $189 million."
- General Information, Essex County, New Jersey. Accessed March 19, 2018. "Citizens approved the change in form of government by a 72,226 to 64,238 vote. As per the approved plan, Essex County was divided into five districts, by population and geography, with each district represented by one Freeholder, and the four remaining Freeholders were to be elected at-large. The following year, the new officials were elected on November 6, 1978, and were sworn into office on the steps of the Essex County Hall of Records one week later, Tuesday, November 13."
- Statewide Voter Registration Summary, New Jersey Department of State, published November 7, 2017. Accessed March 18, 2018
- State & County QuickFacts – Essex County, New Jersey, United States Census Bureau. Accessed April 9, 2017.
- Robert D. Prunetti, County Executive Of Mercer County, Plaintiff, v. Mercer County Board Of Chosen Freeholders, Defendant, FindLaw, November 13, 2001. Accessed March 19, 2018. "In 1972, the Legislature adopted the Optional County Charter Law, providing a county the opportunity to reorganize its form of government into one of four alternative forms: (i) the County Executive Plan; (ii) the County Manager Plan; (iii) the Board President Plan; or (iv) the County Supervisor Plan. See N.J.S.A. 40:41A-1 et seq. Six counties have elected to reorganize their governmental structure pursuant to the Optional Charter Act. They are respectively: Atlantic, Essex, Hudson, Essex, Mercer and Union Counties. Five of these counties...have opted for the County Executive Plan."
- Rinde, Meir. "Explainer: What’s a Freeholder? NJ’s Unusual County Government System", NJ Spotlight, October 27, 2015. Accessed March 19, 2018. "Five counties -- Atlantic, Essex, Essex, Hudson, and Mercer -- opted for popularly elected county executives in addition to freeholder boards."
- Miller, William, Model County Administrative Codes Under the Optional County Charter Law of New Jersey, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, 1974. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- Gansberg, Martin. "Charter Plans Are Varied", The New York Times, November 3, 1974. Accessed March 18, 2018. "Voters in eight of the state's 21 counties will decide Tuesday whether there should be changes in their Freeholder system of government. Charter – study commissions elected last November are supporting the reforms.Only the Essex County commission rejected any change. But those in Atlantic, Bergen, Camden, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Passaic and Union Counties are recommending modifications in the current Board of Freeholder operations."
- Waggoner, Walter H. "New Charter for Essex Urged", The New York Times, September 14, 1975. Accessed March 18, 2018. "Supporters of changing the form of Essex County's government have confidently opened a campaign urging that their proposal be put to the voters in a referendum on the November ballot.A group calling itself “Citizens for Charter Change in Essex County” has submitted to the County Clerk a petition containing the names of 61,904 residents who want the public to have the chance to state whether or not they favor a change in the rules governing the election of the county's nine-man Board of Chosen Freeholders. They also are calling for the election of a County Executive with strong administrative powers."
- Waggoner, Walter H. "Court to Weigh Essex Charter Issue", The New York Times, October 4, 1975. Accessed March 18, 2018. "By the legal cut-off date of Sept. 5, the forces seeking a Charter change had filed petitions bearing 61,608 signatures. But on Oct. 1, Nicholas V. Caputo, the County Clerk, notified the group that a check of names against registration records as of Sept. 5 showed that only 48,274 of the names—8,477 short of the required number—were those of registered voters."
- Waggoner, Walter H. "Charter Petition Gains More Time", The New York Times, October 7, 1975. Accessed March 18, 2018. "The Appellate Division of the State Superior Court ruled unanimously today that Citizens for Charter Change in Essex County could have until Friday to get the 56,761 signatures needed to put the question of county government reform on the ballot next month.... The appellate judges accepted the appeal by the charter change forces on an emergency basis, in view of the approaching Nov. 4 Selection Day and the necessity for printing the ballots as soon as possible."
- Narvaez, Alfonso A. "Bid Made To Change Essex Government", The New York Times, September 28, 1977. Accessed March 19, 2017. "A bipartisan group of residents of Essex County began a drive today to change the form of government in the county. At a breakfast meeting of 100 business leaders and municipal officials at the Claremont Diner here, the group, known as Citizens for Charter Change, proposed that the present nine-member Board of Chosen Freeholders be replaced with a strong county executive and a nine-member Board of Freeholders, five of whom would be elected from districts and four elected at large. The question of a charter change is expected to be on the ballot in November for a referendum and formidable opposition is expected from organizational Democrats who have controlled the membership of the board since 1969."
- Narvaez, Alfonso. A. "Essex to Vote on Charter Change", The New York Times, October 16, 1977. Accessed March 19, 2018. "Harry Lerner, the Democratic county chairman, says he is prohibited from taking a public position on the question because of his post as county leader; however, he added that, as a private citizen, taxpayer and life-long resident of the county, he would vigorously oppose the change. 'I'm going to fight like hell against it,' Mr. Lerner said in an interview. 'It's unnecessary. It's not for our county. To me, it's a form of dictatorship. I'm opposed to it.'"
- Waggoner, Walter H. "Reorganization of Bergen [sic] Government Is Under Way", The New York Times, November 10, 1977. Accessed March 20, 2018. "The county reorganization provides not only for the election of a full-time County Executive, who would then appoint a County Administrator, but also a new system of electing the nine Freeholders, who would, in effect, be the county 'legislature.' Five of the Freeholders would be elected from newly created districts within the county, while four would be elected at large.... The role of the new Freeholder body also would be reduced to that primarily of policy making, with little or no control over county services or expenditures."
- Narvaez, Alfonso A. "Shapiro Links Essex County Victory to Hard Work", The New York Times, June 8, 1978. Accessed March 19, 2018. "Assemblyman Peter Shapiro today attributed his victory in the Democratic primary yesterday for Essex County Executive to hard work by hundreds of volunteers who manned telephones to bring out voters in suburban communities and to inroads made by Freeholder Donald M. Payne in urban areas where Sheriff John F. Cryan had expected stronger support."
- Edge, Wally. "DiVincenzo wants to be first three-term Essex County Executive", New York Observer, December 11, 2009. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- "Peter Shapiro: Bent on Being the Youngest Governor", The New York Times, March 17, 1985. Accessed June 14, 2008.
- Lynn, Frank. "Democrats Gain Control Of Senate, Drawing Votes Of Reagan's Backers; Cuomo And D'amato Are Easy Victors; The Elections: In The Region, Vctorious Incumbents; Record In New York", The New York Times, November 5, 1985. Accessed March 19, 2018. "In New Jersey, the Essex County Executive, Peter Shapiro, a Democrat, lost his bid for a third term to his Republican challenger, Nicholas R. Amato, former County Surrogate."
- Narvaez, Alfonso A. "Challenges To Shapiro On 3 Fronts", The New York Times, October 25, 1986. Accessed March 19, 2018. "Nicholas R. Amato, a Democrat-turned-Republican, resigned as County Surrogate to run against Mr. Shapiro. Mr. Shapiro has also found that at nearly every appearance he is also encountering troubles from a burgeoning county tax rate that last summer hit homeowners across the county with a 22 percent increase."
- Sullivan, Joseph F. "The Elections: Changes in Jersey; Continuity in Connecticut; New Jersey: Shapiro Loses in Essex County; McDowell Is Winner in Bergen", The New York Times, November 5, 1986. Accessed March 19, 2018. "Peter Shapiro, the Essex County Executive who lost to Governor Kean in the New Jersey gubernatorial election last year, was defeated again yesterday, in a bid for a third term in Essex.... In the Essex race, with 76 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Shapiro was trailing his Republican opponent, Nicholas R. Amato, by a 2 1/2-to-1 margin. Mr. Shapiro conceded at about 10:30 P.M., two and a half hours after the polls closed."
- Levy, Clifford J. "After Conviction, Essex County Head Resigns", The New York Times, February 23, 1994. Accessed March 19, 2018. "One day after he was convicted on Federal extortion charges, the Essex County Executive, Thomas J. D'Alessio, resigned today, ending his tenure as one of the state's most powerful elected officials and shaking up the county's Democratic Party.The Board of Chosen Freeholders, Essex County's nine-member governing body, said it would meet Wednesday night to begin choosing Mr. D'Alessio's interim successor, who will serve until the end of the year, when Mr. D'Alessio's four-year term was to have expired.... After more than six days of deliberations, a jury in Federal District Court in Newark on Monday convicted Mr. D'Alessio, 59, and his campaign treasurer, Joseph Thor, 51, of extortion, bribery, money-laundering and other charges in accepting more than $58,000 from a solid-waste company to help it obtain a state environmental permit."
- Levy, Clifford J. "The 1994 Elections: New Jersey Essex County; G.O.P. Wins County Job", The New York Times, November 9, 1994. Accessed March 19, 2018. "A Republican was elected Essex County Executive tonight after the Democrats were unable to recover from a divisive primary that left them with little time and money to battle for a powerful post that had traditionally been theirs. The Republican, James Treffinger, the Mayor of Verona and the lone Republican on the County Board of Freeholders, rolled up a solid margin of victory -- in a historically Democratic county -- over Cardell Cooper, the Mayor of East Orange."
- Staff. "Political Notes; Asked to Find a Winner, A Judge Declares a Tie", The New York Times, July 3, 1994. Accessed March 19, 2018. "After a divisive campaign, a confusing election, three recounts, four lead changes and a month of accusations and recriminations, the race for the Democratic nomination for county executive in New Jersey's second most populous county, Essex, is officially a tie. Judge Burrell Ives Humphreys of State Superior Court last week certified the results of a court-ordered recount of the June 7 primary between Thomas Giblin, the chairman of the county's Democratic Party, and Cardell Cooper, the Mayor of East Orange, that showed each candidate with 22,907 votes."
- Smothers, Ronald. "Top Official Wins Re-election, Defeating Former Newark Mayor", The New York Times, November 4, 1998. Accessed March 19, 2018. "The Essex County Executive, James W. Treffinger, a Republican, scratched out a victory to win a second term tonight, frustrating the comeback hopes of Kenneth A. Gibson, who made history in 1970 when he became Newark's first black mayor. With 96 percent of the precincts reporting, Mr. Treffinger, 48, had 50.2 percent of the vote to Mr. Gibson's 46.7 percent."
- Jones, Richard Lezin. "The 2002 Elections: New Jersey; Supporter of Newark Arena Is Elected Essex Executive", The New York Times, November 6, 2002. Accessed March 19, 2018. "An Essex County freeholder, Joseph N. DiVincenzo, stormed to victory tonight in his race for the county executive's seat.With virtually all the election districts reporting in New Jersey's second-largest county, Mr. DiVincenzo, a Democrat, had outpolled his Republican opponent, Candy Straight, by nearly three to one. Mr. DiVincenzo, a member of the freeholder board for the last 11 years and its president for the past 8, will assume the county executive's seat now held by James W. Treffinger, a Republican, who was indicted last week on charges of public corruption by a federal grand jury here."
- Wichert, Bill. "Joseph DiVincenzo cruises to fourth term as Essex County Executive", NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, November 4, 2014. Accessed March 19, 2018. "Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. cruised to victory tonight to secure a fourth consecutive term in the county’s top post. DiVincenzo, considered to be one of the most influential Democratic power brokers in New Jersey politics, easily won reelection over Republican challenger and Cedar Grove Councilman Peter Tanella.... DiVincenzo then won a second term in 2006, when he received 84,232 more votes than Republican Joseph Chiusolo, according to the county clerk’s office website. For his third term, DiVincenzo beat Herbert Glenn in 2010 with a winning margin of 80,572 votes, according to the clerk’s office."
- 2006 General Election, Essex County, New Jersey Clerk, updated April 15, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- 2006 General Election Winners of County Offices Essex County, New Jersey Department of State, January 16, 2007. Accessed March 21, 2018.
- 2010 General Election, Essex County, New Jersey Clerk, updated April 15, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- 2010 General Election Winners of County Offices Essex County, New Jersey Department of State, February 22, 2011. Accessed March 21, 2018.
- 2014 General Election, Essex County, New Jersey Clerk, updated April 18, 2016. Accessed March 19, 2018.
- Santola, Danielle. "Essex County Executive Launches 2018 Re-Election Campaign", TAP into West Essex, December 12, 2017. Accessed March 19, 2018. "Amid a sea of supporters from Washington, D.C. to Trenton, from Newark City Hall to the outer reaches of West Essex, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo formally announced his re-election campaign in Newark on Monday morning at Essex County Veterans Memorial Park. DiVincenzo, a Newark native who now lives in Roseland, is seeking his fifth term. He was first elected as county executive in 2002."