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The Rise and Fall of the NJ Reform Party

By Stephen Spinosa,
Current Vice-Chair of the New Jersey Conservative Party

Next year will mark 10 years since Ross Perot’s 2nd (and last) run for the Presidency, which may have been the peak of the last big third-party surge in the United States.

My brother Jim and I are among the survivors of this movement. Our involvement started in 1992. At that time we were contemplating getting involved in seriously involved in politics. I had worked for some local Democrat freeholder candidates back in 1985 when I was in college, and had always had an interest in politics. That interest came largely from our dad, who followed every Presidental campaign closely until his death in 1985. His beliefs were fairly simple: the Republicans stood for the rich, while the Democrats stood for the poor and the working middle-class. These ideas were passed on to Jim and I at a early age, and in 1992 we still believed them to be more or less true. So, we were preparing ourselves to work for the Democrats again until Ross Perot came into the picture. Ross was unique in that he had the guts to speak straight forwardly to the American people about the problems of our country. Boiled down, his message was simply, “Boys & Girls, our country is in trouble and here’s why.” Jim was fascinated by the charts and graphs and the mass of facts that Ross presented to back up his claims.

My brother was so moved, that we then considered working for his campaign in NJ. We were looking into it… but then Ross dropped out. By the time he came back into the race in September, we had already committed ourselves to work for local Democrats again. Our candidate for Congress, Ona Spiradellis lost by a huge margin to the local Republican god, Dean Gallo, and we were ruthlessly amputated from the Spiradellis organization.

In the winter of 1993, we saw in TV Guide a survey form printed by United We Stand America, which was connected to Ross Perot. We quickly filled out the form and sent it in. Eight months went by before we were notified of a organizational meeting in our area. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, a dogfight was going on between the grass-roots supporters of Perot in NJ & the hired coordinators recruited from Texas. We would find out later that Russ Verney, who ran UWSA in Dallas for Ross Perot, was a Democratic plant, and placed Norris Clark, a Perot systems employee, in charge of UWSA-NJ. Norris brought in such people as Pat Benjamin of Cherry Hill, who had worked with the League of Women Voters (a long-time Democratic front) & Bev Kidder of Princeton to key positions within UWSA-NJ, over the objections of such grass-roots workers as C.J. Barthlemski, Bill Robinson, Duane Warehime, Frank Conrad, and Roy Downing, among others. When we attended that first meeting in Montville we learned there would be county chapters that would hold monthly meetings to discuss activities. Bill Robinon was our first county chairman, later succeeded by Paul Wiedenschilling, of Towaco. He was assisted by his wife Allie (the former Alexandra Bott). Jim and I moved up quickly within the ranks of UWSA-NJ, becoming first Local Area Coordinators, then Legislative District Liaisons.

During that time we learned about the issues research teams, and also went to Dallas for the UWSA National Conference. We were also recruited into the NJ Conservative Party by Frank Conrad who talked my brother into running for State Assembly with Joe Long in 1995 (at the time we believed that these candidacies were the prelude to a unified Reform/Conservative Party effort in 1996. We were sadly mistaken.)

All of this would lead us to helping get Perot on the ballot in the spring of 1996. However, the first signs of trouble occured in June of 1996 when the Trade Issues Team, led by Paul Wiedenschilling & Karl Sturz of Woodbridge, issued a press release in which they stated that they preferred Frank Lautenberg for Senate over his Republican opponent on the grounds of a better policy record. At that point all hell broke loose as Norris Clark publically slapped down Paul & Karl saying that UWSA didn’t endorse candidates. Then it was announced that UWSA was folding into the Reform Party Committee of NJ, which would be working with the NJ Conservative Party candidates that fall. It was also promised that after the election, the Reform Party Committee would have open elections for officers.

Or so it seemed.

At the NJ Conservative Party annual dinner that October, Norris Clark, according to NJCP stalwart Pat Armstrong, stunned the audience by encouraging people to vote for whoever they wished for (but not NJCP candidates). Then in early January of 1997, a Reform Party Committee meeting was held in which it was announced that a group of five persons (Norris Clark, Pat Benjamin, Bev Kidder, Cecilia Sybrandy & Albert LoCastro) had registered the Reform Party of NJ Inc. with the state of New Jersey.

Pat Benjamin then stood up and said,”We are in charge, and if you don’t like it, get over it. We’re moving on”, sounding very much like Eric Bischoff in charge of the NWO wrestling clique. It was then announced that there would be no elections for officers. At that point there was a lot yelling and shouting, with Mike Best and a Reform Party lawyer named Eric nearly coming to blows. Many people walked out of the meeting and out of the Reform Party of New Jersey for good, including me & my brother.

Since that night, the Reform Party of NJ has ceased to exist, despite a brief attempt at revival in 2000. The NJ Conservative Party had its best years between 1995 and 1998, before Frank Conrad, who had been a spearhead of UWSA-NJ & the NJCP, died in early 1999. Tom Blomquist suffered complications from a bypass operation and was never the same, undergoing dyalisis treatments 3 times a week until his death on May 13th, 2005. Roy Downing now runs the American Reform Party, but with little success. Most of the other figures in UWSA have since left politics, probably never to return.

2 Responses to “The Rise and Fall of the NJ Reform Party”

  1. Mikey Says:

    It was a sign of things to come. :( The Reform Party was the best of the third-parties when it rose to power. Perot was the one who brought it to the front line of battle with the other two dominant parties, and it could have stayed there if the management hadn’t screwed up and started picking hardliners as candidates and spokesmen.

    Fortunately, I caught the interview with Perot on Fox News last week. It was refreshing to see him again, and hear his straight-forward talk. One of the best exchanges was:

    COLMES: Mr. Perot, do you miss the public arena?

    PEROT: No.

    COLMES: That’s a direct and quick answer. Why not? I mean, there are people who love the way you spoke out, that you spoke out, and that you offered an alternative different than the two main political parties.

    PEROT: No, but it’s — you asked me the question. I just tried to give you an honest answer.

    Straight and to the point . . . just like always. :) Man, I miss him. hehehe

  2. Austin Cassidy Says:

    I caught the tail end of that interview as well. It was refreshing to hear his weird Texas accent again and be reminded that he was a real person who did something very real not that long ago.

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