Former Union County Chair Charlotte DeFilippo has Died

Former Union County Democratic Chair Charlotte DeFilippo of Hillside has died.

A powerhouse in Union County politics, Ms DeFilippo served as chair of the county from 1995 to 2013.

She was a political force who ran much of Union out of her home in Hillside, where she also served as the local Democratic Party chair.

“Chairman DeFilippo was a legendary, tremendously effective leader,” said current Hillside Democratic Chairman Anthony Salters. “Her overall body of work made Union County a better place to live. My prayers are with her family at this time.”

Ms Defillipo, who was 73 at the time of her death, had also served as the longtime executive director of the Union County Improvement Authority. She was also a former county freeholder and clerk.

“It’s a tough week for political types I’ve known,” said veteran Democratic Party operative Pat Politano. “Jamie [Fox], Michelle Russo, and now Charlotte. Particularly difficult for Union County with Jamie and Charlotte. These were people who shaped the political and governmental landscape, largely behind the scenes, for more than two decades.”

Politano added, “When she was loyal to you, she was loyal no matter what. When there was movement in the state to shift away from Jim McGreevey for governor, there was this idea among the chairs that if we’re not careful, [then Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman] John Lynch will be the last man standing with McGreevey, and Charlotte said, ‘I’ll be the last man standing with McGreevey.'”

She ran the county from her dining room table, attentive to the nuts and bolts politics few people have patience for, a chain-smoking boss giving new meaning to the term smoke-filled room. Union Democrats got wiped out in the early 1990s Jim Florio backlash and Ms DeFilippo led the effort to rebuild them into a locked up, total control Democratic stronghold.

She was one of New Jersey politics’ real characters. Despite her standing as one of the leading establishment party figures of her era, she took pains to talk about her 1960s anti-establishment Vietnam era past.

“I’m a rabble rousing progressive,” she once told InsiderNJ, as she simultaneously made the case for the government buildings whose construction she oversaw.

Her cat wore a Harley Davidson biker collar.

She was also one of the most expressive people in either party with the English language, exclaiming can’t-forget phrases just a few blocks away from the grave of Red Badge of Courage author Stephen Crane.

“They’re a bunch of complainers, whiners and jumper upper downers,” she once told InsiderNJ in reference to some of her local detractors, always loving the sport of politics.

“Union County lost a giant,” said state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20). “She ruled the roost for a couple of decades, and she always stood on principle and loyalty, which is something that is scare these days.”

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  • Don Gonçalves

    Charlotte and I have known each other ever since 1995. When I first met her – I had been summoned to King Street in Hillside, what was clearly the nerve center for everything Democratic in Union County.

    She was very much a Democrat party leader. I remember her paraphernalia from all of the great races of the past, Humphrey, Kennedy, Carter, Mondale. She had a momento and picture for everything amongst the chaotic buzz and campaign materials of a woman and house that seemed to be in constant political overdrive.

    The legend of course is that Charlotte had an amazing way to express herself and was known for being quick with a quip. But she also had a soft side as well that was in stark contrast to the tough party leader position that she held. You could usually see that it the grandmotherly expression of her eyes.

    For those that have been in politics a number of years in Union County, you might already know my story as it relates to Charlotte. Somewhere around 1998, she sat me down in her living room to talk about the party and my future. She would ask ‘what was going on in Elizabeth’ with Tony Monteiro and Mayor Chris Bollwage. Monteiro was in city council and the Mayor had another one of his mamouth style tax increases which of course Monteiro had announced that he wouldn’t support and then political Armageddon breaks out – but not before Mayor Bollwage threatened me by saying to get in line ‘or else’. He also threatened Tony’s brother who was a judge. It is what it is. Charlotte knew about what was going on and was sympathetic to my plight.

    My allegiance to Monteiro was a complicating factor for Charlotte and I understood that, as she was in the business of trying to create peace in the valley. But I was also part of a group of Freeholders, four in particular (McNeil, Scutari, Cohen and yours truly) that were a little more cantankerous than the other five on the board… so many good stories, but of course not today. Suffice to say, if there was any group that could bring out the ‘feistiness’ in Charlotte, it was us.

    In any case, the political issues I was going through made it pretty difficult for me as a Freeholder in Union County. At that time, she put me on notice – without telling me what I should or should not do by saying ‘watch your back Goncalves’. I knew exactly what she meant.

    In 1999 I was taken off the Democratic line because of those very dark forces and lost some contact with Charlotte. Of course both sides bear responsibility, but the vitriol against the party leaders, the endorsements of candidates running off the democratic line and even endorsing Republican candidates running for governor made our group the scorn for people like Charlotte. I believe what we did was the right thing, but believe it or not I still and always will have a special place in my heart for Charlotte. I remembered the political talk, the history lessons, the Buffalo chicken wings and her deep knowledge of the use of computers and the internet way back in the days of the early 90’s.

    So let’s fast forward. A few years ago I heard that her health was waning and she was no longer working from home. So I’m at Jersey Gardens Mall and I see from the side an image of a woman in a wheelchair that looked just like Charlotte. Lo and behold it was her. I raced up and faced the woman in the chair that I hadn’t seen for years. I said “Charlotte” she said right away “Don” and I said “I haven’t seen you in a while, and this is a pretty peculiar place to do this, but I’ve been wanting to contact you to talk.” She said “ok”. I said “Charlotte, what happened years ago is really water under bridge for me, by gones be by gones, it doesn’t bother me anymore and I hope you are ok with it too?” She looked at me with those eyes of hers and said “well you *****’d up” and then proceeded to take off in her wheelchair.

    I still look at that day as a reminder of who Charlotte was, the legendary toughness – but also in her own little way, a caring person, committed to her party, and what she had dedicated her life to. I believe that’s what she was trying to tell me that day and in the end I’m sue she recognized that even some in the party are not infallible. I only wish I reached down to give her a hug as that is something we would have both agreed upon.

    RIP Charlotte

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