(EAST ORANGE, NJ) - Former East Orange Mayor, Thomas H. Cooke, Jr. passed away the morning of May 18, 2020 at the age of 90. Mayor Cooke was a trailblazer and the City's second African American-elected Mayor from 1978 to 1986.
Most recently, Mayor Cooke was honored posthumously at the 2020 East Orange Memorial Day Celebration. In 2019, he was also awarded the Lifetime Citizens Award.
A look back:
Tom Cooke was first elected to the East Orange City Council in 1961 at the age of 32.
In 1967, Cooke became a candidate for the New Jersey General Assembly. That year, Cooke ran with Frank J. Dodd. While Cooke and Dodd easily defeated Francis T. Craig in the Democratic primary for Assembly, in the general election, the two seats were won instead by Republican Kenneth Wilson (19,281) and Dodd (19,101). Dodd later became New Jersey Senate President, and 1981 Democratic candidate for Governor.
In 1970, Cooke was elected to the Essex County Board of Freeholders and re-elected in 1973. He was not a candidate for re-election to a third term in 1976 after losing the backing of the powerful Essex County Democratic Chairman, Harry Lerner.
Despite his ties with the County Chairman becoming loose, Cooke, also the East Orange Democratic Chairman, ran for Mayor in 1977. In doing so, he defeated Chairman Lerner's candidate and two-term Mayor, William Stanford Hart, Sr. In 1981, Cooke won another term as Mayor.
In 1982, Cooke announced his bid to run for County Executive against incumbent Peter Shapiro. Shapiro won against Cooke with a 2-1 margin.
In 1997, Cooke challenged incumbent Mayor Robert L. Bowser in the Democratic primary. He finished fifth in that race with just 520 votes (4.8%). Bowser barley defeated Sheila Oliver that year with 3,991 (37%) to 3,939 (36%).
Mayor Cooke will be missed as a regular around the City. In 2019, he attended the Citywide Clean-Up, where current East Orange Mayor Ted R. Green acknowledged the many contributions and legacy of Cooke in the East Orange community, noting his most known tenacious fight to keep East Orange clean and healthy.
Former mayor Cooke is saluted as a trailblazer in the community who had the courage to seek higher public office, boldly proclaim his beliefs, and demand representation in a State that was at the time just getting used to black and brown people wielding power in politics.
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