InsiderNJ’s Bon Vivants and Originals: 50 of New Jersey’s Enduring Political Characters


King Penna

It takes chutzpah to go around with the name “King,” particularly in a hell’s ditch like New Jersey politics. But Penna, pictured above, brings a Joe Pesci-like flair to the role of Republican operative, and, with his dashing earpiece headset, a touch of secret service agent mystery.

Joey Novick of Flemington at the barricade.

Joey Novick

When you give him a bullhorn, he’s one of those rare liberals – Ras Baraka’s another – who looks like he could have served in the cavalry with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.

Lassiter with Gina Genovese

Jay Lassiter

The progressive activist – and InsiderNJ columnist – is New Jersey’s own version of Oscar Wilde, an Irish rebel spirit with Liberace panache.

Pablo Fonseca

Schooled on the streets of Newark, the urban pack rat grew into New Jersey’s resident political minotaur in the world of New Jersey politics. Last seen in Hudson.


Ronald L. Rice

The motor-mouthed veteran senator from Newark’s 28th District offers the simple eccentricity of being something seldom seen in the world of NJ politics: a man.


Michael Patrick Carroll

You have to hand it to a conservative who favors rewarding lawmakers in his over-legislated home state for not making new laws.

Parker Space

In the American South he’d be any old reject from the original Dukes of Hazard TV series. Up here though, the Sussex County mountain man who runs an animal farm featuring a groundhog named Stonewall Jackson is an anomaly.


Andre Sayegh

Nicknamed “Mosi” on account of his insistence that his home city be appreciated as a mosaic, the Mayor of Paterson puts the capital “v” in bon vivant.

Aslon Goow

The former Ward 2 Paterson councilman had a tough guy demeanor in office reminiscent of fellow New Jersey native Lee Van Cleef from the Spaghetti Western film era.

Tom Mastrangelo

The Republican Freeholder – up for reelection this year – has a legendary excitable personality in the  otherwise usually leafy forest atmosphere of Morris County.

Charlotte DeFillipo

In her day, the late kandake of Union County Democratic politics could turn a phrase that could freeze any opponent in his tracks.


Luis Quintana

The at-large Newark Councilman served as the first Latino mayor of Newark. One of the original street fighters, who once told InsiderNJ that unlike most politicans, he didn’t need politics as a moneymaker because he had “my groundhogs” digging around his North Ward home.

Frank Graves

The late mayor of Paterson feared no one as he walked the streets of his hometown with an attitude.

Loretta Weinberg

The 37th District Senate Majority Leader from Teaneck is New Jersey’s own feisty Jewish grandmother.

Harold G. Hoffman

It’s tough to miss this guy, the late governor of New Jersey, who ended up being a very bad guy, but whose public punch-out of a reporter put him in a special category.


Dick Codey

When the 27th District state Senator became governor he reawakened a very jaded state with that fun but elusive notion of what it means just to be a regular guy.

Jon Bramnick

Even through the worst of it, even when the faces around him sag with the heaviest jowls of despair and ill-temper, the Assembly Republican Leader – who kicked off his reelection bid earlier this week – never loses his sense of humor.

Chris Christie

Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny the colorful, Great Hits quality of his YouTube compendium political career.

Friedland, right.

David Friedland

The Hudson County Assemblyman staged his own drowning death to avoid prosecution. They caught up with him eventually – after a bird-flipping ski chase and final resurfacing in the Caribbean – but they could never cage the enduring eccentricity of a lawmaker who once pressed for the catfish to be the official state fish.

David Cruz

A veteran of Hudson politics, the NJTV reporter has a legendary combative personality. One of the last of the state’s dogged old school reporters.

The Obi Wan of NJ political insiders: Augie Torres of the Jersey Journal.

Agustin Torres

The former Jersey Journal political columnist, the original Political Insider, wrote pieces about New Jersey politics the way Hemingway wrote about bullfighting, or as Jimmy Cannon wrote sports.

Ray Lesniak

Now retired and set to publish his book about legalized sports betting in New Jersey, the former 20th District Senator stood atop the state’s intellectual pyramid, which gave him a unique glow in a world otherwise mostly populated by toadies and flaks.

Bill Gormley

To this day, some say the Atlantic City-based Republican senator was the most intense guy they ever met in New Jersey politics.


Frank Hague

You knew the late Jersey City Mayor and Hudson County Democratic Organization chair would be on the list. Had to be. Such is the destiny of anyone who declares “I am the law.”


Jerry Healy

The former Jersey City Mayor had one of the most winning personalities in New Jersey politics, and, given a loose microphone, could do a serviceable Sinatra impression.

Don Guardian

You gotta love a guy who wins the mayoralty of Atlantic City by riding around town on a bicycle in a bow tie.


Sharpe James

In his heyday, no one rose over a political landscape with as much authority – and eccentric elasticity – as former Newark Mayor James.

Amiri Baraka, Sr. and Tony Imperiale

Never to make light of Newark’s problems, the north and south flip sides of Brick City’s incendiary history will endure as long as people try to untangle New Jersey politics.


Nick Sacco

He singlehandedly keeps the word “phlegmatic” handy for those political reporters covering the North Bergen mayor, proof that talking a lot in politics doesn’t necessarily translate to colorful presence.

Charles Stile

The legendary Bergen Record political columnist looks (talks and writes) like he fell right out of a Damon Runyan short story.

Maurice Fitzgibbons

The late Hudson County Freeholder was a local boss in Hoboken, who pulled together all the strands of that extraordinary mile-square town into one highly colorful – and historically authoritative – personality.

Doug Palmer

During his two decades-long run as mayor of Trenton, Palmer had a seemingly unflagging electrified charisma.

Shmuley Boteach

The storied Republican rabbi from Englewood once ran for congress against U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, inevitably falling in the gerrymandered district but not before producing an eloquent and citizen-electric candidacy.


Millicent Fenwick

She was cultured. That fact alone made the late great U.S. Congresswoman from Bernardsville a strange bird in New Jersey politics.

Stellato and Pascrell

Bill Pascrell, Jr.

Like Nick Sacco in North Bergen (and, for that matter, Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato, pictured with him, above), Pascrell is such a larger than life figure, Hollywood would have to get Al Pacino to stand down if the 9th District Congressman showed up to play the role of Italian alpha male.

Donald Cresitello

Feisty, combative, the former Mayor of Morristown was a quote machine who just didn’t give a damn if what he said came across as politically incorrect.

Mildred Crump

The veteran at-large councilwoman from Newark has Gloria Gaynor-like stage presence.


Cory Booker

When the 2020 presidential candidate first showed up in New Jersey politics quoting literary and historical works he nearly short-circuited the entire political network – in both parties.

Craig Callaway

The Legendary Atlantic City-based political operative has Nucky Johnson-like street credentials.

Frank Gilliam

The sitting mayor of Atlantic City seems eccentric – and maybe not in a good way.

Nucky Johnson

He ruled Atlantic City during the Roaring Twenties. ‘Nuff said.

Chris Hillman

The Bergen County-based director of legislative affairs for the Motor Vehicle Commission has a Richard Harris-like infectious zest for life.

Steve Lonegan

Stuck now seemingly forever with the tag “former mayor of Bogota,” the perennial movement conservative candidate for higher office assembled some of the most creative back-to-back-to-back-to-back runs for office in recent New Jersey political memory.

Carf Sharif

The late South Ward Democratic political operative had a wise man demeanor that made him look and act like a perfecting Seven Samurai casting choice.


Tom DeGise

They thought he was just yesterday’s news. What they underestimated was there was roaring bonfire under the hood, crackling with all the best combativeness and feistiness of Hudson’s storied political history.

Bill O’Dea

How many guys do you know in New Jersey politics who can do a dead-on Lyndon Baines Johnson impression? Onstage? In front of an audience?

Jim McGreevey

Through it all, the former Governor of New Jersey still has one of the most enduring human personalities in New Jersey politics.

Watson Coleman

Bonnie Watson Coleman

The sitting Congresswoman from the 12th District never backed down from a fight, and can usually be found running into them. A living legend who made history in 2014 as New Jersey’s first African American woman elected to Congress.

Steve Adubato, Sr.

In terms of his demeanor and political intelligence, the Newark North Ward Democratic leader could stand with Caesars. A rare intellectually hyperactive individual.

Tommie Smith

The late mayor of Jersey City once trained for a boxing exhibition with Muhammed Ali s if he had a shot at winning the fight.

Vera Ames Garnes

The former Paterson councilwoman simply told it like it was, every time. When Barack Obama came to New Jersey to campaign for Bob Menendez in 2006, he gave the outsized local personality a shout-out from the stage.

David Ganz

The Bergen County Freeholder is described as crazy smart but quirky. His pin-striped style is unique.  Nationally renowned in the coin collecting world.


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