A consequential figure in Central Jersey politics, who served for 26 years in the Legislature and rose up through the ranks to head the Union County Democratic Party, Assembly Jerry Green (D-22) has died following a long illness.
The veteran leader was 79.
Mr. Green died Wednesday.
“Today, I join with many across Union County and New Jersey in mourning the passing of my friend, Jerry Green,” said Mr. Green’s friend and colleague, state Senator Nick Scutari (D-22), in a statement this morning. “He was so much more than just a colleague and mentor to succeeding generations of politicians – he was a true gentleman legislator who should be remembered for championing progressive policies aimed at helping those in need.
Plainfield Councilwoman Rebecca Williams, who as a member of the New Democrats in her hometown, frequently found herself on the opposing side of party in-fighting with Mr. Green, first posted news of his death on Facebook just past midnight.
“Assemblyman Jerry Green, longest-serving legislator in the assembly, has passed,” Williams wrote at 12:04 am. “Condolences go out to his family, colleagues, and other loved ones. May he rest in peace.”
First elected to the Assembly in 1991, Mr. Green served in the 17th Legislative District for ten years, prior to redistricting when he settled into the 22nd District.
Although a native of Roselle, he was strongly associated in the new millennium with his hometown of Plainfield, where for years he made many of his party’s critical political decisions. One cellphone call from Mr. Green could alter the course of local political history, and he used that power base to establish the footing he needed to become chair of his party’s countywide organization in 2013, the consensus successor to the late Charlotte DeFilippo.
Speaker pro tempore of the General Assembly, he would serve as county party chairman until January of this year.
A star basketball player in high school and consummate team player who prided himself on relationship building, Mr. Green was a local businessman turned Freeholder in 1982-84 and 1989-91. His late career political battles pitted him against Adrian Mapp, Plainfield’s sitting mayor. The two would forge an uneasy but working alliance in the years leading up to the Plainfield Assemblyman’s political twilight.
Tall and rangy, genteel and old school in his demeanor, a man with an easy smile and kind word who could “go street,” to borrow one of his own favorite phrases, when it counted, Mr. Green was a dedicated family patriarch, party leader, African American elder, and mentor to many. His approachable, politically pragmatic style inspired a significant number of young people who worked for him and around him, including Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20) and Union County Young Democratic leader Maria Del Cid.
“Jerry Green is an inspiration for any young man or woman growing up in humble means and wondering what will become of them,” Holley said. “He spent his childhood in Roselle and never forgot what is was like to see people struggling to get ahead. In fact, Assemblyman Green, lived a public service-focused life to improve our communities. Jerry was a hard-working man his entire life; he never retired. He never stopped trying to help others get ahead.”
“Partner,” was a preferred term Mr. Green used to greet a colleague, regardless of party affiliation.
John Campbell, chairman of the New Jersey African American Republican Coalition and a millennial, ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Green in 2013.
Today, he paid his respects.
“We are Republicans and may not have agreed politically, but we believe in good government first,” Campbell said in a statement. “Jerry Green exhibited strong leadership and provided great constituent services, often solving many issues with a simple phone call.”
He proved over the course of his tenure in the 22nd District to be a key western county ally of state Senator Scutari, who succeeded his friend as chairman of the party after Mr. Green’s retirement this year. He was also close to Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), and hosted the senate president at events in Plainfield in the long months leading up to the 2017 gubernatorial election. He played a significant role in the 2014 Democratic Primary when he backed Bonnie Watson Coleman for the congressional seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12).
“I had Plainfield for 20 years, and Jerry and I served for ten years of that period,” said state Senator Bob Smith. “He was a good man. First of all, he was very much into his community. He was a huge advocate for Plainfield, particularly on affordable housing and development issues. He was a very good assemblyman and he will be sorely missed.”
It was his political hold on Plainfield finally for a significant period of time that defined his place in the Democratic Party. It provided the most basic evidence of his assimilation of all-politics-is-local logic, and stood him in good stead as a leader emeritus of sorts even during those years when Mapp took over as local party chairman and Mr. Green attempted to keep unified a county crammed with outsized intrigue, egos and competing agendas.
He liked to keep it simple, by comparison, and tried whenever possible – though in Union it seemed a futile exercise – to maintain the peace.
This morning, Scutari issued a statement and it is printed below in its entirety:
Today, I join with many across Union County and New Jersey in mourning the passing of my friend, Jerry Green. He was so much more than just a colleague and mentor to succeeding generations of politicians – he was a true gentleman legislator who should be remembered for championing progressive policies aimed at helping those in need. As the Chairman of the Housing Committee, he proved himself as a strong and fair statewide leader in the fight for affordable housing, often siding with those who felt their voices are never heard. As Chairman of the UCDC, he prided himself on working closely with all the municipal leaders as well as those at the countywide and state level. He was perhaps the first to see the potential for Democratic victories in places like Summit, Westfield, Springfield, Cranford, Scotch Plains, Berkeley Heights, and so many more.
I’ve known Jerry for a very long time. He was a Union County Freeholder, my predecessor as county chairman, and a respected member of leadership in Trenton. He was also a very private individual, but fiercely loyal to his friends. Jerry was a star athlete who passed on college to get trained and certified as a union-shop butcher. He went on to open his own businesses, including a popular tavern, as well as manage residential properties. And even though those seeking the highest offices would come to him for advice and counsel, he never forgot what was most important to him – his family, and the pride he had in them. I will miss him and am proud to say I was his friend.
My thoughts and prayers go out to his beloved wife, Wanda, and the entire Green family.
Over the course of the last several months, sources in Union County – on the strength of Plainfield’s position in the constellation of the 22nd District and by frank reckoning of local party control – have acknowledged the likelihood of Mayor Mapp (chair of the Plainfield Democrats) succeeding Mr. Green in the Assembly.
In that event, the Council would pick a temporary replacement for Mapp. Councilwoman Rebecca Williams has seniority. Sources frequently mention Freeholder Linda Carter as a possible replacement.