Robert Bowser, mayor of East Orange for four terms, dies at 85

Robert L. Bowser, who served as mayor of East Orange for sixteen years and fought to reduce crime in his city, died on Saturday. He was 85 years old.

Bowser won her first term in 1997 after beating Freeholder Sheila Oliver by just 52 votes in the Democratic primary.

He beat Oliver, who later served as Speaker of the Assembly and is now Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey, by a margin of 36.5% to 36.0%. Councilwoman Yvonne Blake was third with 15%, followed by businessman John Washington (7%) and former Mayor Thomas H. Cooke, Jr. (5%).

Bower’s victory came four years after losing a Democratic primary for a Third Ward council seat to East Orange School Board President Jimmy Small.

The incumbent, Cardell Cooper, did not seek re-election and later joined the Clinton administration as U.S. Assistant Secretary for Housing and Urban Development.

In 2001, Bowser faced a fierce challenge in the Democratic primary from Assemblyman LeRoy Jones, Jr. and four others. He beat Jones, by a margin of 39.6% to 28.3%, followed by adviser Carol Clark (15%), developer and former college football star Kevin Taylor (11%), adviser Dwight Saunders ( 5%) and Edward “Lonely” Lonon (1%).

He had an easier time in the 2005 primary, winning 67% against teacher Narda Morant, policeman Freddie Towns and Taylor. Taylor ran again in 2009 and Bowser beat him by a nearly 2-1 margin.

But in 2013, when Bowser sought a fifth term, he lost party support for re-election and finished fourth in a field of five candidates.

The race was won by Lester E. Taylor III, a partner at a prominent New Jersey law firm — his partners included former Gov. Jim Florio and former GOP state chairman Doug Steinhardt — who received 33.5%. Kevin Taylor finished second in his fourth mayoral bid with 23.4% and Clark, now Essex County’s outright owner, came third with 21.8%. Bowser received 2140 votes with 21.1%, 1257 votes behind Lester Taylor. Tonya Parker-Lemon only received 63 votes.

Bowser had been director of public works for East Orange, engineer and planner for the Newark public school system, and traffic engineer for Montclair. He was a licensed land surveyor and president of Bowser Engineers & Associates.

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