Trenton Times/NJ.com story on passing of the legendary Jack Rafferty'John ‘Jack’ Rafferty, former N.J. assemblyman and first full-time mayor of Hamilton, dead at 82'
John K. “Jack” Rafferty, a one-time New Jersey state assemblyman but better known as the long-time mayor of Hamilton, Mercer County, died Wednesday at the age of 82.
Rafferty dedicated roughly 30 years of his life to public service, serving six years on the then Hamilton Township Committee (now council) prior to being elected the municipality’s first full-time mayor from 1976 to 1999. From 1986 to 1988, he also represented the 14th Legislative District in the state Assembly.
The formidable Republican is largely credited with presiding over a period and in the 1980s and 1990s during which Hamilton crafted its own identity, apart from being just the suburban town next to the state capital.
Funeral services had not been announced as of Thursday afternoon.
'He was smart, tenacious, selfless and had a sense of humor that always brought a smile to anyone he met'
--U.S. Cong. Chris Smith
Under his tenure, Hamilton grew into one of the Garden State’s largest municipalities. The Hamilton Hospital (now known as the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton), the Hamilton Train Station, and the Veterans Park all came into being during his mayorship.
Both the the YMCA facility on Whitehorse-Mercerville Road, as well Hamilton’s main post office on Route 130, bear Rafferty’s name. He’d lobbied the federal government for years for the U.S. Postal Service to recognize Hamilton zip codes as “Hamilton” instead of the longtime mailing address of “Trenton, N.J.” - a change that occurred in 1992.
In 1980, Rafferty served as the co-director of former President Ronald Reagan’s New Jersey campaign. A year later, he ran for governor of New Jersey. He finished seventh in the Republican primary, which was won by eventual Gov. Thomas Kean.
In a statement NJ Advance Media, current Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin expressed his “deepest sympathies and condolences” to Rafferty’s family, including his wife, Doris.
“I trust his family, friends, and loved ones will find solace in knowing Jack’s many years of dedicated service to our community will live on in Hamilton Township, Mercer County and New Jersey for eternity,” Martin said in the release. “Mayor Rafferty left an indelible mark on Hamilton Township. We can all learn from his example and strive to be more like Jack.”
In addition to Martin, the other mayors who served terms after Rafferty’s retirement in 1999 dually praised his service in the release.
Kelly Yaede, a Rafferty protege who served as mayor from 2013 to 2019, described Rafferty as a “truly good man” and “dedicated public servant.
“He led a growing town into a thriving community during his tenure. He was beloved by residents regardless of party affiliation; a true leader who put the needs of residents first,” Yaede said in s statement. “The collective sadness realized today in Hamilton with the passing of Mayor Jack is palpable.”
Former Mayor John F. Bencivengo, who was elected in 2007 and resigned in 2012, credited Rafferty with turning “a place into a township” and “a township into a strong community of families, parks, schools, and thriving businesses.
“Mayor Jack Rafferty, his name and his life will never be forgotten. We lost our shining star, a friend to all, a great public servant, a family man, and our mayor for more than two generations,” Bencivengo said in the release. “To me, he was my mentor, friend, and a blessing in my life. Hamilton will forever be in his debt.”
Glen Gilmore, Rafferty’s immediate successor and a two-term Democratic mayor, expressed his condolences in stating that Rafferty’s legacy “will forever loom large over Hamilton.
“He always cared about people more than politics – which is what we could use more of now,” Gilmore said. “He was always a friend to me and I will miss his smile.”
Beyond the mayoral leaders who followed in his footsteps, a number of other New Jersey politicians also shared statements with NJ Advance Media honoring Rafferty’s legacy.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, the Republican from the 4th Congressional District, including Hamilton, said he worked with Rafferty on “many projects” including the the Hamilton train station and securing Hamilton’s postal identity, and described him as “an extraordinary leader — especially for the people of Hamilton Township.”
“He was smart, tenacious, selfless and had a sense of humor that always brought a smile to anyone he met,” Smith said. “He was kind and caring—and had a great big heart.”
Bill Baroni, a former Republican senator for the 14th Legislative District, including Hamilton, said “perhaps no person since our namesake Alexander Hamilton has done more to make our town what it is today” than Rafferty, who he’s known his whole life.
“In the hit musical ‘Hamilton’ — our town’s namesake — the last line sang by all the cast is, ‘Who tells your story?’ Mayor Rafferty, we will tell your story. A story that takes us to Sayen Gardens and Veterans Park; to a library we never had, parks we could only imagine; a police station that helps keep us safe; and the fact that we can use ‘Hamilton’ on our mail,” Baroni said. “There are thousands of stories we will tell – because you made our town.”
Brian M. Hughes, Mercer County’s current executive and a Democrat, said he and Rafferty “often stood opposite each other,” but the former mayor, “never hesitated to reach across the aisle.”
“Jack was a dedicated public servant who inspired a generation of others to follow his lead,” Hughes said. “Hamilton Township has lost a dedicated civic leader, gentleman and friend, and my thoughts are with the Rafferty family.”
Fellow Republican and current Robbinsville Mayor David Fried said Rafferty was “a true legend” and “the mayor I always wanted to be.”
“He was a larger-than-life personality who garnered the respect of his friends, as well as his opponents on each side of the political aisle,” Fried said. “I was extremely fortunate that he took me under his wing very early in my career and was always there to lend advice, or a helping hand at any hour of the day or night.”
Even after retiring from his mayoral duties in 1999, Rafferty remained active in Hamilton life. He served as the executive director of the Hamilton Partnership, an organization committed to working with community business leaders, government officials, and private decision makers to deliver services and employment opportunities to the township.
He also served on the New Jersey Republican State Committee for the state’s Republican Party.