Obituary: Mayor John T. Gregorio of Linden: 1926-2013

John T. Gregorio, Sr. died of leukemia on October 23, 2013, aged 85, in Linden.

John T. Gregorio, Sr., who died of leukemia on October 23, 2013, at the age of 85, is best known as the longtime Mayor of Linden but he also served as a member of the City Council, the General Assembly, and State Senate.

“The Board of Chosen Freeholders is saddened by the news of former Linden Mayor John Gregorio’s passing. Former Mayor Gregorio, who also served in the Senate and Assembly, was a giant of New Jersey politics. He was Linden’s greatest cheerleader and a pioneer in building the nexus between government and business for the benefit of the taxpayer,” said Union County Freeholder Vice Chairman Christopher Hudak, a resident of Linden.

“Mayor Gregorio went to work every day to fight for Linden’s working families. Under his leadership, Linden became known as a city with the best services, great schools and a strong sense of community. His passing truly marks the end of an era for Linden and Union County. The Board extends our deepest sympathies to Mayor Gregorio’s family, relatives and friends.”

Gregorio was a Democratic Party politician who served in the New Jersey General Assembly from 1976 to 1978 and in the New Jersey Senate from 1978 to 1983. Gregorio represented the 21st Legislative District until 1978, when redistricting following the 1980 Census designated his jurisdiction as the 20th Legislative District.

In 1983, following a conviction for failing to disclose his interest in a pair of Linden go go bars, he was forced to resign from the State Senate and from his position as Mayor of Linden. After receiving a gubernatorial pardon in January 1990, Gregorio staged a political comeback and won election as mayor of Linden, serving in that position until 2006.

Gregorio was born in Staten Island on February 6, 1928, and moved to Linden in 1949 after serving in the United States Navy.
He went into the family trade and opened a floral shop there, which was operated by his wife, Marie.

Active in the local Democratic Party organization, he was elected to the Linden City Council in 1964 and became mayor for the first time in 1967. He was elected to the General Assembly, where he served from 1976 to 1978 and then moved up to the State Senate where he was in office starting in 1978 and served as chair of the Senate Labor, Industry, and Professions Committee.

After being convicted of conspiracy for concealing his ownership of two go go bars operated by his son, Gregorio was forced to resign in 1983. The jury that convicted him in December 1982 found him not guilty on nine charges, including official misconduct, tax evasion and tampering with official records.

Under the terms of his conviction, Gregorio was required to relinquish his mayoral and Senate seats and would be unable to seek elected office. In a June 1983 special election, Raymond Lesniak won the seat Gregorio was forced to vacate.

Gregorio asked Lesniak, his successor in the Senate, to pursue the possibility of getting a pardon. Gov. Thomas Kean granted the pardon in January 1990 on his last day as governor, which allowed Gregorio to re-enter the world of politics.  In the June 1990 primary, Gregorio won the Democratic nomination for mayor and was elected again as mayor by overwhelming margins.

Gregorio maintained a grip on political power in Linden and surrounding Union County that earned him recognition as “one of the few remaining old-time local political bosses in the state — and one of the most controversial.”

In his last years in office, Gregorio earned an annual salary of $114,000, making him one of the highest paid mayors in New Jersey. Gregorio argued that he fulfilled the municipal responsibilities of a business administrator in addition to his role as mayor.

In the 2006 general election, Gregorio lost narrowly to candidate Richard Gerbounka, an independent candidate who had served 12 years on the city council.

After serving 33 years as mayor and never having lost a political race before, Gregorio said “I have no regrets. There comes a time. You can’t stay in office forever” and blamed his loss by fewer than 100 votes to a lack of sufficient campaigning.

After his son was charged in 2007 with kidnapping two men who had been harassing his teenage daughter, Gregorio had no regrets about the arrest saying “he did what any father would do” and he “should have given him a medal.”

He is survived by his wife, Marie; daughter, Jodi Gregorio-Pucillo; son, John T. Gregorio Jr.; and six grandchildren: Maria Colicchio, Jianna Marie Gregorio, Jenna Rose Gregorio, Jordanna Alexa Gregorio, Jannia Alyssandra Gregorio and John T. Gregorio III.

A public viewing will take place at Leonard Lee Funeral Home in Linden from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at St. Elizabeth Church in the city.

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