SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – Township officials have announced the funeral arrangements for Mayor Frank Gambatese who passed away Saturday morning.
According to an alert put out Sunday evening by officials, a viewing is scheduled from 3-8 p.m. Tuesday and the funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday with both taking place at St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church located at 10 Kingston Lane in Monmouth Junction.
Gambatese, 81, passed away early Saturday morning at a hospital in New Brunswick while recovering from pneumonia and heart-related conditions in recent years.
Despite his failing health and missing several recent Township Council meetings during his rehabilitation, Gambatese still came into the office for meetings with businesses and constituents as recently as this month.
He was elected to the Township Committee as a Democrat in 1997 and then was appointed Deputy Mayor under the administration of Mayor Debra Johnson in 1999 when the form of government changed to a Council-Manager under the Faulkner Act.
When Johnson declined to seek a second term in 2002 due to family related issues, Gambatese became the candidate for the Democratic Party and won the first of his four, four-year terms in the office.
Winning re-election in 2014, he was the longest serving mayor in the history of the township.
During his 80th birthday celebration at the municipal building last year, Gambatese said that he and his late wife Ellen moved to the community in 1992 from northern New Jersey.
He had a successful career as a corporate accountant and served as mayor of West Paterson, recently renamed Woodland Park.
While expecting to live out a quiet retirement in his new home, the savvy politician soon became wrapped up in the community and returned to public service.
“When we moved here there was an election,” Gambatese said at the time. “I called (the Democrats) up and said ‘put a sign on my lawn,’ and no one came over. I thought ‘the Democrats are in trouble,’ and my wife (Ellen) said I should run for office.”
Ellen Gambatese, also a devoted community activist, especially with the libraries in the township and Middlesex County, died suddenly on Veterans Day in 2012 at the age of 76.
Gambatese was heartbroken losing his wife of 54 years, but said the work of the mayor’s office helped him through that rough time.
Because he was retired, Gambatese could usually be found in the Municipal Building on Ridge Road during the week, holding meetings and discussing township issues despite the position being only part-time.
In the wake of Gambatese’s passing, officials said that Deputy Mayor Chris Killmurray will likely become acting mayor and the Democrats would appoint someone to the seat.
A scheduled Township Council meeting for Tuesday has not been canceled yet.
It is not clear if the vacated seat must be up during a special election this November.
Petitions for partisan candidates are due on March 31, less than a week away so that the candidates can appear on the ballot for the primary in June.
Non-partisan candidates, such as school board members have until August to decide if they are running for office.
2017 was supposed to be an off-year for the council elections, which take place every-other year.
(Editor's Note: A previous version of this story said that Mayor Gambatese died at St. Peter's University Hospital. While he was initially admitted there, he was moved at some point to Robert Wood Johnson. The family's obituary lists Robert Wood Johnson. It is not clear if he went back to St. Peter's before his death.)