The Unmaking of Mayor Addonizio

Originally appeared in Tiger In The Court
By Paul Hoffman

On July 14, 1967, Newark erupted in racial rioting. In a decade of civil disorders, it was one of the worst. By the time an uneasy peace was restored four days later, 26 persons were dead, more than 1000 were injured and more than 1000 were under arrest. Much of New Jersey's largest city looked like An Loc after Tet. National Guard troops patrolled the streets in tanks. Block after block contained little but burnt-out buildings and looted stores. Property damage was estimated at more than ten million dollars.

Governor Richard Hughes reacted with what has become the characteristic ploy of public officials in time of crisis: He appointed a commission to investigate the causes of the riot and to make recommendations to prevent a recurrence. The "blue-ribbon" panel was headed by Robert D. Lilley, president of the New Jersey Telephone Company. The Lilley Commission's report came out the following February. Among the causes it listed was "a pervasive feeling of corruption" in Newark. "There is a widespread belief that Newark's government is corrupt," the commission said. "A source close to Newark businessmen said he understood from them that `everything at city hall is for sale.' A former state official, a former city official and an incumbent city official all used the same phrase: `There is a price on everything at city hall.'" Among the commission's recommendations was that a special grand jury "investigate allegations of corruption in Newark."

It was a challenge no prosecutor could ignore. The grand jury was duly empaneled by Essex County prosecutor Joseph Lordi. It quickly indicted Newark's police director, Dominick Spina, for failure to enforce the gambling laws, but he won a directed verdict of acquittal.

In time the grand jury got around to Newark's mayor, Hugh J. Addonizio. Then 54, Addonizio was short, dumpy and balding. A Newark native, the son of a clothing manufacturer, combat veteran of World War Two, he had been elected to Congress in the Truman upset of 1948 and reelected six times. He compiled a liberal, if undistinguished, record in Washington before being elected mayor in 1962. He was reelected in 1966, but even before the riots, the Italian-Negro electoral coalition he had forged was falling apart. The shocking revelations of the DeCarlo tapes were a year away.

Addonizio appeared before the panel on May 7, 1969. He invoked the Fifth Amendment and was brought into open court. It turned out that the authorities were interested in Addonizio's new summer home in New Shrewsbury, on the Jersey Shore, and a $14,000 loan for it from Paul Rigo, an engineer who had worked on many city projects. Addonizio said he declined to answer because he felt he was the "target" of the inquiry, but the judge directed him to return to the secret session and answer the questions.

By the time Lacey and Stern came into office, the Essex County grand jury had amassed more than 5000 pages of testimony, but it had been frustrated in its attempt to pin corruption charges on any city official. The new U.S. attorney also started looking into Newark's civic cesspool, but at the outset he was merely skimming the slimy surface.

Then the investigation broke wide open.