UNION COUNTY — Sunday, former undersheriff Joseph Cryan stepped down from his elected position as 20th District Democrat assemblyman to take the oath of office as Union County’s next sheriff.
The moment was bittersweet in many ways, not only because of the untimely death of former Sheriff Ralph Froehlich last summer, who he worked for as undersheriff, but also his late father, John, a former Essex County politician, assemblyman, undersheriff, sheriff and lifetime mentor.
At his swearing-in on Sunday, Cryan was flanked by his wife Kathy, who held the bible his hand rested on, son John and daughters Hannah and Katie. The former assemblyman was stoic as New Jersey Superior Court Judge Joseph Donohue administered the oath of office.
As a former state Democratic Party chairman and outspoken member of the Assembly budget committee, Cryan was known to use this political clout in Union to defeat challengers in Democratic primaries and local general elections. But his political power also holds considerable weight in other municipalities and throughout the state.
Prior to his death, Froehlich made it clear to LocalSource in an interview last February whom he would like to see step into his shoes.
The issue, while not on the table at the time, was brought up by Froehlich, who mentioned that should he ever retire or become ill, he would want Cryan as his successor. As the longest serving sheriff in New Jersey, Froehlich explained the only reason he was able to do the job he did at his age “was because Joe handles budgets and all the work behind the scenes flawlessly.”
The former sheriff specifically said “when and if I can’t do this job anymore, the only man I would trust to do it and do it right is Joe Cryan.”
While Cryan’s decision to run for sheriff came as a surprise to his political cronies and adversaries alike, he remained quiet about the decision. However, his life mirrors that of his father, almost eerily so. In 1965 Cryan’s father ran for the assembly and won, serving until 1967 when he left for a position as undersheriff for Essex County.
Two years later he ran for sheriff and defeated his opponent, an incumbent. Although he died ten years ago, people still remember the elder Cryan, noting that he was “an institution.”
On Sunday, many of his political constituents on both sides of the fence spoke highly of Cryan, and wished him well. However, there was no doubt his presence in the assembly would be missed.
“Union County’s gain is certainly the legislature’s loss,” said Democrat State Sen. Nick Scutari, adding that Cryan was “a man of the people who speaks what he believes.”
When it was his turn to speak, Cryan credited his father for “keeping me grounded in life,” pointing out that he “blazed a big path.”
“With new days and new changes and new leadership comes new vision,” Cryan told those attending the ceremony, adding “and we in the Union County Sheriff’s Office celebrate our success and want to build on it.”
He also mentioned that this county department had already taken steps to review employees so productivity would increase, changes would be made to hiring practices and the office would begin using K-9 sweeps in county buildings.
“We want to create a culture of expectation of excellence,” Cryan said, adding “we tried that and we have done that already.”
Interestingly, while there were few Republican elected officials at the annual Union County reorganization meeting, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick of the 21st legislative district, which overlaps into Union County, was one of the dignitaries invited to step to the podium to say a few words.
“I come here to congratulate the winners of the election because that is what we do in America. We recognize who won and then we support leadership and work together,” he said, but added “those who want to divide us, they have no place in Union County. We work hard together, show respect for each other and show civility. That’s what America is about.”