Among the last of the old guard

Tony Amabile dies at 84

Anthony Amabile
×
Anthony Amabile

Slightly more than a month before his Oct. 1 passing, Anthony Amabile made his way back to the offices of the Hudson Reporter, where he had worked as a columnist for more than a decade. Back in the 1990s, after leaving journalism, he became a highly regarded political consultant who helped mayors get elected in some towns.

He had become, in recent years, a political outcast from working campaigns that opposed candidates supported by the longtime Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), but Amabile still loved politics and said he missed being involved in the game.

“I thought I was good at what I did,” he said.

For more than 20 years, Amabile served as chief executive officer of Meadowlands Associates Inc. in Jersey City, billed as a public relations, advertising and marketing firm, representing private and public sector clients. The office served as base for a number of high profile campaigns.

Politicians have said that Amabile introduced the concept of political consulting to Hudson County, becoming a regular figure behind candidates running against the mainstream.

This often put him at odds with the political powerbrokers who saw him as a threat, and ultimately led to his being targeted after he was blamed for supporting an opposition candidate for mayor in Bayonne in 2005.

During a recent visit, Amabile made it clear he thought this was unfair, since he made his living by helping candidates, and remained one of the most politically knowledgeable people in the county – his experiences documented in notes for a book he once intended to write.

He had started gathering material for a book on the inner workings of Hudson County politics about ten years ago, intending to map out the political landscape that helped shape politics today, as well as profiling many of the political players past and present.

But over time, he let the project lapse, spending a significant amount of time living in a condo in Cape May with his longtime companion, Betty Spinelli.

“The notes are all in my basement,” he said. “I didn’t think there would be much of a market.”

Amabile, however, said he missed the action – and it some ways, he was as infatuated with politics as he was in horse racing. He regularly attended the track, in love with the action.

“Politics is how I made my living,” he said.

An old school consultant

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he was raised in Jersey City, but retired to Cape May for several years before finally relocating to Florida.

He cut his teeth in journalism as an award-winning reporter for the Hudson Dispatch, for which he later became city editor for the Jersey City Division. He later became one of the early political bloggers, showing his ability to adapt to a changing technological environment.

Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, with whom Amabile once had a political consulting contract, called him one of the first political consultants in Hudson County.

“He was old school,” Turner said. “He still wrote things down with pen and paper. This was before we got technology.”

Amabile was a governmental as well as a political consultant, and was hired in both capacities at various times during the administration of Hoboken Mayor Anthony Russo. Amabile was behind the scenes during several of Russo’s elections, but also worked in administering funds for a municipal drug education program.

Amabile also backed early efforts of politicians such as former Secaucus Mayor Dennis Elwell when Elwell ran against candidates supported by the county Democrats.

This incurred the wrath of political heavy weights of the time such as then Assemblyman and Secaucus Democratic Party Chairman Anthony Impreveduto and others.

Good career while it lasted

Over the years, he wrote articles for Gateway Magazine and served as editor for Hudson Forum, a bi-monthly publication of the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce. He also contributed as a historian for the government-published book, “The Left Bank, a History of Hudson County, New Jersey.”

During an encounter with him and his wife, Spinelli, in Cape May in 2012, Amabile displayed a broader knowledge of New Jersey history when talking about historic structures in that part of the state, his adopted second home for a few years.

In an interview a month before his death, Amabile said politics was his bread and butter, accounting for hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual income.

“I did very well for a long time,” he said. “I represented a lot of important people and I did a lot of good work for them.”

Oddly enough, his political career started outside of Hudson County while he was serving in the U.S. Army. A fellow soldier also from Hudson County asked him if he would spend his 30-day leave working on the campaign for then U. S. Sen. John F. Kennedy to become president.

Amabile readily agreed and spent 30 days traveling with JFK on the campaign trail, and loved every moment.