The next installment of a series on Joseph Portash, who helped fashion the township as a seasonal alternative for retirees who thought Florida was too far, and too hot for them to treat as a year-round home.
In the early 1990s, however, he became the central figure in a scandal that transformed his image from a reformer and innovator to that of a large-scale petty thief and burglar.
Every Thursday, we'll look back at the stories that told the tale of what happened, and how Manchester survived one of the worst corruption scandals in the state' history.
We'll also look at how Portash rose to prominence as an Ocean County freeholder and Manchester mayor, and then as an administrator who ushered in the cash cow known as "adult communities."
This installment looks at Portash's death, which even the most rational observers said was mysterious. It took place one month after the change in government took place.
JOSEPH S. PORTASH, ARCHITECT OF OCEAN RENAISSANCE, DIES IN MAINE AT 58
PUBLICATION: Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ)
SECTION: NEWS DATE: February 28, 1990
MANCHESTER TWP. ADMINISTRATOR PRAISED AS 'INNOVATIVE POLITICIAN'
Joseph S. Portash, a controversial politician who helped lead Ocean County during a period of rapid growth in the early 1970s, died early yesterday at his vacation home in Maine.
At the time of his death, he was the business administrator of Manchester Township, where he once served as mayor.
Portash, whose death from an apparent heart attack at 58 shocked many of his colleagues, was remembered as an innovative and powerful leader in the 14 years he served as Manchester Township mayor and then as an Ocean County freeholder.
His career as an elected official ended when he was accused of accepting $45,000 from a developer to influence his decisions on building applications. His 1976 conviction was thrown out on appeal, and a subsequent trial acquitted him of wrongdoing.
A former Ocean County planner, Portash served as Manchester Township business administrator since 1977. He had been appointed to a new three-year term in January.
Mayor Ralph Rizzolo said Portash oversaw the growth of the township from the mid-1960s to the present. Rizzolo said Portash took the town from some "real hard times" and transformed it into a progressive community.
"His will be very hard shoes to fill. It is a great loss for the township," Rizzolo said.
Flags were flown at half-staff yesterday in the township, and all municipal meetings were canceled.
Ocean County Surrogate Anthony G. Sussex worked with Portash when Sussex served on the Manchester Township committee for eight years. "Joe Portash was a man who educated those who came in contact with him. His insight of politics and his knowledge of public service was immense," Sussex said.
Joseph E. Buckelew, the chairman of the county Republican Party, served on the freeholder board with Portash during what Buckelew described as the "renaissance period" of the county. "There were so many firsts: The office on aging, the hiring of the first full-time county administrator, the consumer affairs department, the building of four vocational schools," Buckelew said.
Buckelew said Portash was "not the least bit bashful" about trying something new. "He was courageous in that sense - notwithstanding some reverses, political and otherwise. He was one of the most innovative politicians I've known since I've been in politics," Buckelew said.
Freeholder James Mancini agreed Portash was an astute, powerful politician. "For about five years he was the predominant Republican leader," Mancini said.
At a freeholder caucus yesterday, the board discussed honoring Portash with a memorial resolution. Buckelew expressed dismay at Portash's becoming a target of criticism recently in Manchester Township, which has the highest concentration of retirement communities in the state.
"He developed the senior citizen industry in Manchester and for many years was revered. There was always a standing ovation for Joe Portash if there were seniors in the room," Buckelew said.
Hundreds of senior citizens and other residents stopped a committee meeting last June to protest a salary ordinance, which the critics claimed would pay excessive salaries to Portash and certain other township employees.
The salary ordinance was later scrapped. However, a citizens group which formed in response to the ordinance later pushed to have a vote to change the township charter. A vote in January changed the form of government from partisan to nonpartisan.
The first elections under the new form of government will be held in May. Portash was a target of the group that pushed for the charter change. Portash had stated last year that he would retire to Maine in January, but instead was appointed to serve another three years as business administrator just prior to the charter change election.
Buckelew and others said they had never heard of Portash being ill and knew him to be an athletic man who loved sports. According to information released from the Northern Cumberland Hospital in Bridgton, Maine, Portash was dead when he arrived at the hospital at 6:45 a.m.
No information was released about the cause or circumstances of his death. Rizzolo said he was told it was from a heart attack. Portash was born in New Brunswick and attended schools in Metuchen.
He studied drafting for two years before serving as a paratrooper in the Army in Korea. He married the former Adelaide Kalinuk in 1958. Surviving are his wife; his mother, Irene Krovath Portash; five daughters, Kim Portash, Vawn Portash and Lisa Portash Baroska, all of Manchester, Heidi Sloboda of Bayonne and Daria Melbye of Waterford, Maine; and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements will be by the Raymond Funeral Home in Bridgton, Maine.