In Hudson County, where political disputes create deep divides even among former political allies, the sudden death of Harrison Mayor Raymond McDonough on Feb. 11 seems to have brought about a nearly universal tone of regret. McDonough died of a massive heart attack while in his office.
“Mayor McDonough threw every fiber of his being into serving the City of Harrison and those who live and work there,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez. “His passing comes as a great shock to many. I will miss his no-nonsense style, his clarity of purpose, and his unfailing friendship. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Connie, his brother, Tim, and all who knew and loved Mayor McDonough.”
McDonough was 65 years old, and his death came at a time when his city was in the midst of significant positive change, as plans he helped develop were beginning to transform the western edge of Hudson County into a new Gold Coast for redevelopment.
“The residents of Harrison, New Jersey have lost a great leader and I have lost a dear friend,” Rep. Albio Sires said in a statement. “Mayor McDonough was a champion for all people and believed in serving his community. A lifelong resident of Harrison, he was a member of Local No. 24 Plumbers Union, entered public office in 1978 when he was elected to town council and was elected mayor in 1995. His legacy will live on throughout Harrison for generations to come.”
“The residents of Harrison, New Jersey have lost a great leader and I have lost a dear friend.” – Rep. Albio Sires
“It is a great loss not only for Harrison, but for all of Hudson County,” Fulop said. “As I was someone new to being a Hudson County mayor, I can say that Mayor McDonough tried to be helpful whether it was advice, guidance, or perspective. He was a very kind person, a very good mayor, a true professional who loved his city. He will be missed.”
West New York Mayor Felix Roque called him “a wonderful guy” and someone who had offered Roque support during last year’s legal troubles.
“He became a real friend to me,” Roque said. “When things looked bad for me, he was very supportive.”
A shock to everyone
McDonough’s death was a shock to public officials in every corner of Hudson County.
“He was a true gentleman,” said Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell. “He was among the best in this business.”
McDonough, although mayor of a small town on the western side of Hudson County, exerted a huge influence on decision making countywide.
“He was a great man with a big heart,” said Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli. “He always did what was right for his town. He will be missed by those who know him.”
“He had a tremendous impact on Harrison,” said a very saddened Paul Swibinski, founder of Vision Media consulting. “I remember what Harrison was before he became mayor, and what it became. He is leaving a legacy that he can be proud of.”
In some ways, Harrison has become a new Gold Coast of Hudson County, a region that is benefiting from the renaissance of nearby Newark as well as its PATH connection to Jersey City and New York.
“He was a regular guy,” Swibinski said. “He was able to identify with the average man.”
McDonough was elected mayor in 1995 after serving on the town council for 17 years.
He was instrumental in formulating the Harrison Waterfront Development Plan which hoped to capitalize on its location along the Passaic River and station for the PATH. He also oversaw the development of Red Bull Arena, a soccer stadium.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto also released a statement on the passing of the Harrison Mayor.
“Ray McDonough was a great friend to so many of us throughout Hudson County and an extremely strong advocate for the town of Harrison. He always stood up for the middle class and working men and women and had a great deal of integrity and compassion. He will be greatly missed, and I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family and the town of Harrison.”
In a statement North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nicholas Sacco said: “I worked with Mayor McDonough very closely as the senator representing his town over the last twenty years and he was one of the most dedicated public servants I have ever met. He always put Harrison first and did whatever he could to make his home town a better place. He will be deeply missed.”
Even Republican Gov. Christopher Christie, who McDonough (a Democrat) endorsed last year, called McDonough “a genuine, kind-hearted soul” who loved his home town and his people.
McDonough, who was among a handful of Hudson County Democrats to endorse Christie, had become very critical of some of the “Bridgegate” coverage, particularly when it came to the state’s support for an upgrade of the Harrison PATH station.
Some people on the staff of other political figures wondered if the additional stress brought on by the media attention had contributed to his death.
Democratic legislators and news outlets have questioned whether the upgrade to the Harrison PATH station was tied to McDonough’s endorsement. There were also questions raised about purchase of property near the Harrison PATH station by the governor’s brother, Todd Christie. The value of the property would increase significantly as result of the upgrade of the PATH station.
In public statements, McDonough defended the PATH upgrade as a necessary next step in the redevelopment of the Passaic River waterfront in Harrison and Kearny.
Many of those who dealt with him day to day said he worked to get things done in a positive way, always working behind the scenes to smooth over differences that often seemed impossible to get done. Several staff members were particularly upset at his death, seeing no one on the local scene who could fill his shoes.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.