After Jason O’Donnell of Bayonne casts his ballot in his last Assembly voting session on Jan. 12, he will walk out of the chamber, proud of his accomplishments.
O’Donnell has served the state’s 31st District, which includes Bayonne and part of Jersey City, as one of its two assemblymen for the last five and a half years. Assemblyman Charles Mainor also represents the district.
The Hudson County Democratic Organization selected attorney Nicholas Chiaravalloti and nonprofit agency director Angela McKnight as their candidates this year.
While it was widely believed that O’Donnell was passed over because of his connections to the administration of former mayor, Mark Smith, O’Donnell bravely waded into political cliché, telling the Bayonne Community News that he was leaving the Assembly because wanted to spend more time with his family.
Chiaravalloti and McKnight defeated their Republican and independent rivals and will replace O’Donnell and Mainor in Trenton next month.
But O’Donnell leaves the New Jersey State Assembly feeling he made a difference.
The legislation he found most gratifying to introduce was the pulse oximetry, or “Pulse Ox” bill, which mandates a hospital test be administered to newborns; it’s proven to be a life-saving measure. State Sen. Richard Codey sponsored the bill in the Senate. The quick-and-easy test gives healthcare workers information about a baby’s cardiac health, including oxygen and hemoglobin levels in the blood, according to O’Donnell.
“It’s a simple test that can detect any number of cardiac malfunctions or anomalies,” he said.
The first day it was a law a baby’s life was saved. The last time O’Donnell checked, 18 babies had been saved. Several other states followed suit with similar laws.
Leaving a legacy
“We should be doing everything we can to give kids a chance,” O’Donnell said. “If you can do that, and have that as your legacy, that’s more than anyone can ever do.”
O’Donnell’s son, Patrick, 9, was diagnosed with a heart murmur just after birth. The Pulse Ox test has helped to identify such cases.
O’Donnell said he is happy with the dozens of bills he sponsored or cosponsored, and the hundreds more he was a part of.
“I’m proud of everything we were able to help with in New Jersey, including making things more affordable, and bettering the standard of life for residents,” he said.
“The 31st is a microcosm of the state: you have residents who are wealthy, working class, and you also have abject poverty,” O’Donnell said.
He said he worked to make college education more affordable in the state and to give property tax relief.
O’Donnell, a former fire captain, is now retired from the Bayonne Fire Department. He had been city public safety director during the Smith administration, leaving that post following Mayor James Davis’s victory in the municipal runoffs last year.
O’Donnell and wife, Kerry, have three children, Caroline, 13, Jack, 11, and Patrick.
Praised by peers
“It’s a big loss,” said former City Council President Terrence Ruane. “This is one guy who lives and breathes the city of Bayonne.”
Former Hudson County Freeholder Doreen DiDomenico said, “I really relied on his advice. He stood in for me many times at my meetings. He was just a great right-hand person to help me in that role.”
Former City Councilman Joseph Hurley, also a retired Bayonne firefighter, was O’Donnell’s training officer when he first joined the department.
“He was highly intelligent and motivated,” Hurley said. “He would study all the time. He was one of the first members of his recruit class to be sworn in as an officer.”
New chapter in life
When his assembly career is over, O’Donnell will be working for a metropolitan-area public-relations firm. He is still the municipal Democratic chairman.
O’Donnell would not confirm or deny that he has his sights on another elective office, such as Bayonne mayor in 2018.
“I’ve learned one thing at this point in my life, to never rule anything out,” he said. He also will do more volunteering, and will devote more time to organizations he is already involved with, such as the Shamrock Society and Knights of Columbus.
“You don’t have to be an elected official to help people,” he said.
O’Donnell said he hopes something can be done to fix the nearly empty state Transportation Trust Fund in the time he has left.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.