William Gaughan, the longest serving councilman in Jersey City and former chief of staff to the county executive’s office, died at his home on Oct. 19.
Gaughan was elected to the City Council in 1993 and served five terms under mayors Bret Schundler, Glenn D. Cunningham, and Jerramiah Healy. He declined to run for reelection in 2013 but remained chief of staff to Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise until 2016. Gaughan served in his county post since DeGise was first elected county executive in 2002.
“He was a good tough Irishman who cared about family and community,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea. “He was sort of like the character John Way plays in ‘The Quiet Man.’”
Political associates, even political opponents, paid tribute to the man who served Jersey City Heights for decades.
DeGise in published reports said the loss was as big as The Grand Canyon.
“A true leader of Ward D,” said at-large Councilman Daniel Rivera. “Bill has known me 40 years when he was the sponsor of my Little League team. Ward D has never been the same without him and has felt his void. He will sorely be missed.”
Ward E Councilwoman Candice Osborne was elected the same year Gaughan retired from the city council.
“While I never had the opportunity to work with him on the city council, I had the pleasure to know him,” she said “He loved the city that he served, and while we will miss him, we always feel his presence.”
Even political enemies admired him
Although Gaughan had been ill for some time, he remained cognizant nearly to the end of his life; a number of close friends and associates visited him on the Sunday before his death.
“I called him last week when I heard he wasn’t doing well,” said Robert Cavanaugh, who was sometimes a political opponent of Gaughan’s. “He told me he had a good run and that he had no complaints.”
Cavanaugh, who was elected to the Jersey CityCouncil in 1997, was often at odds with Gaughan.
“He was a good tough Irishman who cared about family and community.” – Freeholder Bill O’Dea.
Cavanaugh continued, “Regardless of the ruckus on the council, it never became personal for me or Bill or Tom. We tried to work through our difference. When we could find common ground, we would.
“At the end of the night, we would go out and have a drink,” Cavanaugh went on. “People would come in and see us after seeing us earlier screaming at each other in the council chambers. I always told them this wasn’t personal. Bill was instrumental in bridging the gap with opposition during that council meeting. He and the others that served during those years were longtime Jersey City people, and they understood the issues.”
Cavanaugh said there were amazing stories about Gaughan, like the one about City Clerk Robert Byrne, when he was thinking about running for office.
“Bill told him to go outside and hit his head against a wall, and if he still wanted to run, to come talk to him,” Cavanaugh said.
Gaughan adopted local pols who appeared to be lost sheep, including former assemblyman and former Union City Mayor Rudy Garcia.
“Billy Gaughan was like a father to Rudy,” said former Secaucus Town Administrator Anthony Iacono. “I worked closely with Bill when I worked in Secaucus, but Bill was a mentor to Rudy.”
Jersey City Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano called Gaughan “a legend of Jersey City,” someone who stopped and listened to his constituents.
A man of the little people
Sean Gallagher, deputy city clerk for Jersey City, grew close to Gaughan, partly because he started in city government the same year Gaughan was elected to the council.
“He took office in July, 1993, I was hired in October,” Gallagher said. “He was a father figure to whomever he met. He loved Jersey City, and he was very good to the people who worked here. If we had a problem, he would try to find an answer.”
Gallagher said there were many memorable events involving Gaughan, but one in 2007 stands out. “He remembered I was a New York Giants fan,” Gallagher said.
Gaughan brought back mementos from the Superbowl in which the Giants played and gave them to Gallagher as a birthday present.
Gaughan left his mark inside and outside of Jersey City.
“I got to know Councilman Gaughan through his advocacy for Jersey City and Hudson County,” said Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti. “But like most people who knew Bill, he was more than just a political leader. He was the type of man who welcomed you into his heart and provided frank, honest advice. He was the Irish uncle we all need from time to time. He will be missed. “
Tributes from around the county and the state
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said, “We all mourn the passing of Bill Gaughan. He devoted his life to the best of community politics, to public service, and to improving the lives of others. He was a man of the people who possessed a natural understanding of how to work effectively with others and how to get things done.”
“Everyone who worked with Bill respected his skills and intelligence, and everyone who knew him admired his never-ending enthusiasm for life,” Sweeney continued. “He was an example for us all. My sincere condolences go out to Bill’s family and to everyone whose life was touched by him.”
Bobby Knapp, a longtime county employee, who worked with Gaughan on many levels, said if all the people who Gaughan helped got together they would fill an arena.
“I went to see him last Sunday; he told me he wanted to live to see the New York Jets win another game,” Knapp said. “Almost to the last day of his life, he kept his sense of humor.”
Kind, caring, compassionate
Knapp called him “an icon of kindness.”
“He was the most beautiful creature in this Lord’s creation,” Knapp said, near tears. “He was the champion of the little person, caring and compassionate to no end.”
Rep. Albio Sires echoed that sentiment.
“I am deeply saddened to hear about the death of my good friend,” Sires said. “The residents of Jersey City have lost a great public servant, and the Gaughan family has lost a beloved patriarch.”
“My sympathies go out to his wife, Bernadette, his daughter, Bridget, and his beloved grandson, James,” Sires said. “He was a champion for all people and believed that everyone should have the chance to realize their potential to the fullest.”
“Bill worked tirelessly at improving the quality of life on behalf of the people of Jersey City and Hudson County,” Sires summed up. “His impartiality and professionalism as a public servant will be remembered for years to come.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.