In many ways, the gathering to honor former Freeholder Neil Carroll on May 14 in Stephen R. Gregg Park in Bayonne was a lot like the last scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where the main character, George Bailey, learns just how important a role he has been playing in the lives of people around him.
Like Bailey, Carroll – who represented Jersey City and Bayonne – was known to help people, powerful people, but also the less powerful. He was someone who never took credit for the work he did, although often his sage advice allowed some of the most powerful people in the state and nation to shine.
In his honor, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop joined two former governors, one former U.S. Senator, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party, former mayors of Bayonne and West New York, former freeholders, and perhaps the most powerful former member of the House of Representatives in paying tribute to Carroll at the ceremony.
Along with numerous other local dignitaries, Hudson County officials dedicated a monument and a bench to Carroll, citing him as one of the most influential but previously unrecognized officials on the local, state and federal level over the last eight decades.
A 95-year old former Representative, Cornelius E. “Neil” Gallagher, a one-time confidante of President John Kennedy, celebrated the 89-year-old Carroll as a man who gave but rarely claimed credit.
Others that came to honor Carroll were former New Jersey governors Jim Florio and Jim McGreevey, and former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli.
Former state Sen. James P. Dugan, who also served as state chairman for the Democratic Party, credited Carroll for helping other people throughout his life.
The dedication ceremony took place in a portion of the park where there are monuments to veterans from the Civil War and the Spanish American War, an area restored under Carroll’s watch as a freeholder in the 1990s.
“Neil gave great advice, and it was up to you to listen to it.” – Jim McGreevey.
Born in Bayonne in 1927, Carroll served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the Korean conflict before going on to become chief of staff to four congressmen between 1963 and 1989: Gallagher, Dominick V. Daniels, Joseph A. Lefante, and Frank J. Guarini.
Guarini, who was in Rome attending a graduation, sent a video message that was played at the dedication of the monument called “Carroll Cove.”
Carroll also served as chief of staff for the Hudson County freeholder board, and later, for West New York Mayor Sal Vega.
“Neil was always there for me,” Vega said. “He was like a father to me. His family is my family.”
Freeholders Bill O’Dea and Ken Kopacz along with County Roads Supervisor Harold Demellier helped create the tribute to Carroll.
Bayonne Council President Sharon Nadrowski spoke on behalf of Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis. Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti of 31st District, which includes Bayonne and Jersey City, also spoke, along with former Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, Carroll’s son-in-law.
A man behind the scenes
After Carroll served in World War II and the Korean Conflict he settled down at a job at Standard Oil where he worked for about 16 years.
After a failed attempt to get elected to the Bayonne City Council in the 1950s Carroll went on to a long political career, serving as an advisor to some of the best and brightest political people in the state. Along with his service to Gallagher, LeFante, and Daniels, he worked on numerous gubernatorial and presidential campaigns in New Jersey.
Carroll is a former executive director and campaign manager of the Hudson County Democratic Organization and served as deputy political director of the Jim Florio for Governor Committee. In 1990, Florio named Carroll as chairman and executive director of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Carroll has been involved in numerous community efforts. He was named Man of the Year in 1989 by the Bayonne Sicilian Club, and Man of the Year by an Irish club in Bayonne in 1990. He was inducted in the Bayonne High School Hall of Fame for community service in 1997.
Carroll served as an advisor to former Mayor Smith when Smith was the HCDO executive director, and has had close relationships with a number of powerful political figures, including State Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
Carroll is the owner of a security company in Bayonne. Most recently, Carroll served from 2009 until this year as a member of the Hudson County Schools of Technology Board of Education.
Florio called Carroll one of his “closest and trusted” advisors.
“Neil gave great advice, and it was up to you to listen to it,” McGreevey said.
But Carroll also fought for causes that had a huge effect on everyday people, and helped create a better way of life.
“Neil is the gold standard in the political way of life,” McGreevy said.
Torricelli said Carroll always gave sound advice.
“I’ve known him since I was in college,” Torricelli said. “He is a big part of history. Bayonne is a special place because of people like him.”
Gallagher called Carroll “a great diplomat.”
“Everybody’s life he’s touched, he’s made better,” Gallagher said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.