Assemblyman Jerry Green of Plainfield has died

Published April 19, 2018
By Paul C. Grzella

PLAINFIELD - Assemblyman Jerry Green, a fierce advocate for the Queen City and Union County and lauded by Gov. Phil Murphy as a "one of a kind" public servant, died last night.

"Jerry Green was an innovator, a trailblazer and the most influential African American leader ever to come from Union County," Union County Freeholder Chairman Sergio Granados said in a statement about Green.

His 22nd district stretched across Central Jersey and included his hometown as well as Clark, Fanwood, Linden, Rahway, Scotch Plains and Winfield in Union County, Dunellen and Middlesex in Middlesex County and Green Brook and North Plainfield in Somerset County.

Green's "advocacy and love for Union County and his home of Plainfield was unquestioned," Murphy said in a statement. "While Jerry could be tough as nails, he was also a gentleman, whose bigger-than-New Jersey smile and quiet humor could easily light up a room. He was nice to me during the early years when he didn't need to be, and I am proud to have called him my friend. Our condolences go out to his family, friends, and colleagues in the Legislature. He was one of a kind."

Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp, who oversees the city that Green called home for decades, said that the Assemblyman was "unapologetic in his need and sense of urgency as an outspoken champion of Plainfield"

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Assemblyman Jerry Green," Mapp said. "For decades his advocacy on behalf of Plainfield has been a driving force for change and progress."

Mapp said that Green also lent his voice and considerable support to other municipalities across Union County, recognizing that true development could not happen in a vacuum.

"He brought a common sense business approach to politics and reached across party lines to forge alliances and friendships that helped him successfully champion progressive legislation," he said. "He was a Plainfield patriot and his passing will leave a void not easily filled. My heartfelt condolences goes out to his wife and family at this difficult time.”

Green died shortly after his 79th birthday, which was on April 16.

It's well known around Union County that Mapp and Green didn't always get along, but the two seemed to have mend their relationship in recent years. Green, whose legacy in the Assembly is well revered, also came under criticism at times. After a Plainfield employee was charged by police with lewdness, Green called on the mayor to remove the employee but Mapp responded by calling Green's comments "poisonous."

Green's death is a loss for the county, the state and those who knew him, Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement: "He was a man who made a real difference as a tireless advocate for those most in need and whose work will have a lasting impact on the lives of so many. Jerry Green was a valued colleague who was respected by everyone who knew of his life of accomplishments and admired by all who knew him for the man he was."

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker called Green dedicated and mindful of those most in need.

“Jerry dedicated his career to helping to lift up those most in need, and fought tirelessly to defend equal rights and justice for all. He was a leader and a gentleman who never forgot his roots and always kept Plainfield in his heart," Booker said. "Jerry’s commitment to public service can be seen throughout Plainfield and all of Union County, and his legacy will live on for generations in the community he loved."

Green was remembered on both sides of the aisle. Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Dist. 21) said Green was his friend for 30 years.

"We understood that talking to each other and treating each other with respect was very important," he said. "I will miss Jerry and thank him for his service to our state.”

Assemblyman Jamel Holley, a Democrat representing Union County, said that he will never forget Green.

“Jerry Green is an inspiration for any young man or woman growing up in humble means and wondering what will become of them, Holley said. "Jerry was a hard-working man his entire life; he never retired. He never stopped trying to help others get ahead. I will never forget his service to New Jersey, as he was focused on creating better policy and inspiring conversation on the issues that truly matter in our state."

26 years in the assembly
Green was a Union County freeholder in the 1980s and early 1990s, and was an assemblyman in the 22nd district for the past 26 years, most recently re-elected in November. He was the longest-serving assemblymember in New Jersey.

Green was the Assembly's Speaker Pro Tempore and had been the Deputy Speaker Pro Tempore; he was the Deputy Speaker from 2002-2003. Green served in the Assembly on the Housing and Local Government, as Chair, and on the Health and Senior Services Committee. He was also a member of the Joint Committee on Housing Affordability. He also served on numerous city, county and regional boards, and was among those responsible for bringing a Union County College campus to Plainfield.

"His efforts helped fuel Union County 's amazing economic growth and success, including the ongoing renaissance of his hometown of Plainfield," Granados said.

He was the county's Democratic Chairman for nearly five years, a post he gave up early this year as he focused on his health, according to previous public statements.

"As a mentor to myself and so many other elected officials in Union County, Jerry set the example on how to live a life in politics and government with dignity, humility, and grace," Granados said. "Our condolences go out to his family, and we ask that all Union County and residents of the State of New Jersey please keep him and his family in their thoughts and prayers. He will be sorely missed."

Green's death creates a void that will be flt by all those who knew him, said U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Dist. 12) in a statement.

"That list has thousands who may never have met Jerry in person but benefited from his great deeds," she said. " He was a true champion of our Democratic values and he never held back in the hard fights. I served with Jerry Green in the General Assembly and he was my Union County Democratic Chairman when I became a member of Congress, but he was my friend above all. My family will say a prayer for his family today and we will never forget who he was, and all he did, moving forward.”

State Sen. Joseph Cryan, D-Dist. 20, said Green was a Union County institution.

“Jerry Green’s legacy will be defined by his public service, his dedication to advancing our party’s values and, most importantly, his love for his family," said Cryan, who was elected to his position last November. "I worked with Jerry for many years and I always came away impressed by his determined efforts as our chairman and his attention to detail as a legislator. Jerry Green was a champion of civil rights and was on the frontlines in our state in the fight to provide an affordable and accessible education for all of our children and to provide affordable housing for everyone."

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Dist. 19) said Green was a giant of the Assembly and that it is impossible to imagine the legislative body without him.

“He loved public policy, always strove to help the least fortunate among us and took great joy in mentoring new members and staff. He was New Jersey’s leading expert on affordable housing, a problem he never stopped trying to solve,” Coughlin said. ““His keen insight and advice was sought by countless of his fellow Assembly members – with good reason. He was sharp when it came to politics and policy, a true leader and a model for all to emulate. His wit and sense of humor often helped lighten a long day, yet he took his job as serious as anyone. He never stopped trying to help others. He was tireless.”

Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer called Green "a great leader, a friend and an ally. I have had the pleasure of working with Jerry for more than a decade, during which time he has always been a dedicated public servant for whom the interests of his constituents were paramount. We offer our condolences to the Green family, knowing that they must be proud of his service to the community."

In a news release officials from Scotch Plains noted that Green was always willing to listen to the concerns of township residents.

Township Manager, Al Mirabella said, “Jerry Green was an outstanding legislator who cared deeply for the residents he served. I will miss his leadership as well as his friendship.”

Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver said that Green offered "words of encouragement and wisdom" when she was in the Assembly.

“From the very first day I walked into the Assembly in 2004, Jerry Green was there to offer words of encouragement and wisdom honed from his years of service to his district and county, and our entire state," she said. "His quiet demeanor and understated humor hid a giant of the Legislature who was unafraid to go to the mat for his constituents and the values of equality, fairness, and opportunity he held deep within himself. During my time as Assembly Speaker, Jerry served as my Speaker Pro Tempore, my partner and confidant for four years. But, Jerry Green was more than my legislative colleague, he was my friend. His wife, Wanda, and everyone who loved Jerry are in my prayers today.”

The Sierra Club mourned the death of Green, as well.

“Jerry Green was a friend and confidant who I’ve worked with for many years. Jerry was committed to both Affordable Housing and protecting the environment. We worked closely together through various stakeholder and Legislative processes to make sure we included environmental criteria into Affordable Housing," Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club Jeff Tittel said. “I’ve known and worked with Jerry Green for many decades; since I was in Junior High School when he was a Union County Freeholder. He worked on expanding country parks, protecting open space, and making Union County the first nuclear-free zone in the state. Jerry Green will be greatly missed.”

On behalf of the entire New Jersey Democratic State Committee, Chairman John Currie and Vice Chair Lizette Delgado-Polanco issued the a statement regarding Green's death.

"With the passing of Jerry Green, New Jersey lost a true leader," they said. "Jerry's long-time public service career, including over 25 years as a member and leader of the New Jersey General Assembly, has greatly improved the quality of life for not only the residents of his district, but of all New Jerseyans. In the Legislature, Jerry focused on many issues, but his true love, was working as Chair of the Housing Committee to make sure residents had an affordable roof over their heads. We want to also mention Chairman Green's strong commitment to the Democratic Party and it's values. In the wake of his unfortunate passing, we send our sincere condolences and best wishes to Jerry's family and to his many friends and admirers."

Partner and friend
Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Dist. 6) said Green was a partner in many a State House battle, but also his friend.

"When Jerry entered a room, he did so with a smile, a handshake and a hug, and when Jerry spoke, everyone listened,” Greenwald said. “He commanded respect, but he was also a kind-hearted man who put everyone else first. He was a true leader.”

When Green had something to say, the room stopped, said Assembly Deputy Speaker and Appropriations Chairman John Burzichelli (D-Dist. 3).

“He had well-earned respect, and his leadership helped guide many members and staff,” he added. “He was tough-as-nails, yet had a heart of gold.”

Housing and community development were passions for Green, who fought for these issues throughout his career. Hewas honored in 2011 at the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey's Legislator of the Year for his commitment to making New Jersey a more affordable place for all.

“He spoke to our membership on numerous occasions, inspiring them to continue to fight for policies that strengthen our communities and he vowed to fight alongside us," said the network's President and CEO Staci Berger. "His work has left an impact on our state and we will miss him dearly.”

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District 22's State Sen. Senator Nick Scutari, who succeeded Green as the county's Democratic Committee chair after a fierce battle with other Democrats, called Green "a true gentleman legislator who should be remembered for championing progressive policies aimed at helping those in need."

"As the chairman of the Housing Committee, he proved himself as a strong and fair statewide leader in the fight for affordable housing, often siding with those who felt their voices are never heard," Scutari said. "As chairman of the UCDC, he prided himself on working closely with all the municipal leaders as well as those at the countywide and state level. He was perhaps the first to see the potential for Democratic victories in places like Summit, Westfield, Springfield, Cranford, Scotch Plains, Berkeley Heights, and so many more.

Green was a respected member of leadership in Trenton, Scutari added.

"He was also a very private individual, but fiercely loyal to his friends," the senator said. "Jerry was a star athlete who passed on college to get trained and certified as a union-shop butcher. He went on to open his own businesses, including a popular tavern, as well as manage residential properties. And even though those seeking the highest offices would come to him for advice and counsel, he never forgot what was most important to him — his family, and the pride he had in them."

Assemblyman James Kennedy, also representing the 22nd district, said Green was a mentor and friend.

“During our time together in the Legislature, I learned so much from him. The lessons he taught me about policy, politics, and the fundamental need to help those who are less fortunate will forever be invaluable to me," he said. “I know I speak for so many of our constituents in saying that we lost a true leader in our community. It was an honor to work alongside him. I want to send my deepest condolences to the Green family.”

In his hometown of Plainfield, residents commended Green on the work he had done to improve the city.

Lee Jackson, who has lived in South Plainfield and Plainfield in recent years, said she she didn't know Green, but was surprised to hear of his death.

"I saw it on the news this morning," June Bristol of Plainfield said about Green's death. "I know he did a lot of work for Plainfield. It was always Jerry Green, Jerry Green. When I learn a prominent person had died I accept it. We're not all here forever. He did a lot of things. He was a great advocate. It's good when people leave they have a legacy."

Terry Morris said Green's political career started off on the right track.

"And then as he got more involved in politics a little heavier he became a typical politician. You can't blame him for that because basically that's what most of them do. I'm not going to knock him," said Morris, who had wished Green and other politicians had worked toward established a free standing senior center, not one attached to another building.

In response to Norman Deen Muhammad's post about Green on the Facebook page The Buzz in and Around Plainfield, Jm Benjamin wrote: "This brother proved that it was possible for brothers like myself from Plainfield to overcome & make it out thru education, power & suppport of the people, not only in Queen City, but world wide! Blessings to the family of legendary Assemblyman Mr. Jerry Green...job well done sire."

Green is survived by his wife Wanda, and other family members.

Staff Writer Suzanne Russell contributed to this report

Editor / General Manager Paul C. Grzella: 908-243-6601; [email protected]