LINDEN – Former Democrat mayor John Gregorio, 87, infamous for serving 10 terms, died last week and was buried Monday.
Gregorio, who served the blue-collar city for a total of 33 years, 31 as mayor, died of natural causes at Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth, following a political career that often was tainted with scandal.
Although first elected to the city council in 1964, Gregorio became mayor for the first time in 1967. He also did a stint in Trenton, serving from 1976 to 1978 in the assembly and later in the senate from 1979 to 1983.
Although forced to resign in 1983 following convictions for conspiring to hide his financial interest in two city go-go bars by falsifying documents, a Superior Court judge sentenced him to two years probation and fined him $10,000.
A three-judge panel stripped Gregorio of his legislative and municipal posts, despite an attempt by senate leaders to convince the court the legislature had jurisdiction over the case. For the next seven years, unable to vote or hold office, Gregorio maintained a low profile, but not for long.
He returned as mayor in 1990 after he was pardoned by former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean on his last day in office. According to one source, it was Democrat Sen. Ray Lesniak who approached Kean for the favor.
In 2002 the Division of Criminal Justice signed a proposed grand jury indictment that would have charged Gregorio and his son-in-law, Domenick Pucillo, with conspiracy charges related to a $19 million deal to build a trash transfer station on the Linden waterfront. But the indictment never went through because Criminal Justice Director Peter Harvey, who became the state attorney general under Gov. James McGreevey, said there was not enough evidence. Political opponents said Gregorio’s Democrat cronies ensured that indictment would never fly.
Known as the Lion of Linden, he wore his title well, often causing controversy and unease with the decisions he made while in the mayor’s chair. When he returned to office in the early 1990’s, he demoted then police chief John Miliano and several other senior officers, a move that divided the police department, which led to a political organization forming that ended up challenging him for the mayor’s seat.
Gregorio held the title of mayor until Mayor Rich Gerbounka defeated him in 2006.
The Union County Freeholder Board released a statement last week about the passing of the former mayor, noting they were saddened by the news because Gregorio was a “giant of New Jersey politics.”
Calling the former mayor “Linden’s greatest cheerleader,” the freeholders said Gregorio was “a pioneer in building the nexus between government and business for the benefit of the taxpayer.”
“Mayor Gregorio went to work everyday 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,” said Freeholder Vice-Chairman Christopher Hudak, a resident and native of Linden.