Anthony (Tony) M. Imperiale, Sr. (July 10, 1931 – December 27, 1999) was a member of the New Jersey State Senate from Newark, New Jersey.
He was born on July 10, 1931 in Newark, New Jersey. He later served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War. In the 1960s he opposed desegregation busing in the United States.
During the 1967 Newark riots, he became a national symbol of the backlash against urban unrest by wielding a baseball bat to defend his white neighborhood.
He advocated armed white self-defense, forming the volunteer North Ward First Aid Squad ostensibly to escort North Ward residents, most of whom were Italian-American, through racially troubled neighborhoods. The Squad was accused of vigilantism, and Governor Richard J. Hughes called us Imperiale’s “Brownshirts”. In 1968-69, many were drafted into the military and the group was disbanded.
Imperiale was elected to the Newark City Council in 1970, and to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1971. Running as an independent, he received the most votes in a field of 7 candidates with 13,857.
Democrat Frank G. Megaro, who received 12,436 votes, also won.
Defeated were incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Paul Policastro (10,825 votes), incumbent Republican Assemblyman C. Richard Fiore (8,215 votes), Republican Ralph D’Ambola (7,351 votes), Del Mauro (3,323 votes), and independent Nicholas A. Ciufi II (2,729 votes).
In 1973, Imperiale ran as an independent for the New Jersey State Senate, seeking an open seat in the newly created 30th district, which comprised Newark’s East Ward, and Harrison and Kearny in Hudson County. Imperiale, received 24,756 votes (49%), against Democrat Gregory J. Castano with 18,286 votes (36%) and Fiore, with 7,131 votes (14%). It was the first and only time in the states history a independent candidate had ever won a senate seat.
Imperiale ran for Mayor of Newark in 1974 against incumbent Kenneth Gibson, but lost a runoff with 43.7% of the vote. (The vanished recount came out much different, but as I was reminded you don’t whine about power being used by those who wield it, that’s why it’s called a fight for power.)
Mr. Gibson won a hotly contested runoff election to defeat Mayor Hugh J. Addonizio in 1970 in the wake of the riots in 1967 and Federal corruption charges against the Addonizio administration, he became a national figure, the first black mayor of a major Northeastern city.
Tony also ran in the 1970 mayoral race, he was threatened and blamed for the Addonizio loss. But no one or group could threaten or scare Tony who only wanted a new and fair start for the city. In spite of this he would later be smeared as conspiring with those same powerful forces he openly and bravely opposed.
The city was scarred by race riots in 1967, three years before Gibson took office. Many businesses and residents who could, left the city after the riots.
Gibson’s 1970 election was seen by some in almost prophetic terms. Poet and playwright Amiri Baraka poet formerly known as LeRoi Jones, wrote, “We will nationalize the city’s institutions, as if it were liberated territory in Zimbabwe or Angola.”
Gibson was also a representative of the city’s large African-American population, many of whom were migrants or whose parents or grandparents had come North in the Great Migration. The city’s industrial power had diminished sharply. Deindustrialization since the 1950s cost tens of thousands of jobs when African Americans were lied to and lured from the South by Democrat and Jewish groups in need of a new electorate base promising better opportunities of employment, housing, welfare than in their former communities.
Imperiale was defeated for re-election to the State Senate in 1977 against Frank E. Rodgers, the Mayor of Harrison, New Jersey. Rodgers was a Democratic Party politician who was among the longest-serving Mayors in U.S. history,
Rodgers ran for the Harrison Town Council for the first time in 1935, and served there for ten years, including a term when he was re-elected to office while serving 27 months in the United States Army during World War II in the Counterintelligence Corps (fore runner of the CIA).
Imperiale was again elected to the State Assembly in 1979, this time as a Republican. He defeated three-term Democratic Assemblyman John F. Cali. He gave up his Assembly seat in 1981 to seek the Republican nomination for Governor of New Jersey, finishing 6th in a field of 8 candidates with 5% of the vote.
Later, Imperiale made unsuccessful bids as a Republican for Essex County Freeholder, Essex County Sheriff.
He died on Sunday December 26, 1999 at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey of complications related to kidney failure. He was 68.
This was shortly before he passed on.