Former Rep. Joseph Minish (D-N.J.), a strong labor supporter and the first-ever chairman of the House Page Board, died Nov. 24 in Livingston, N.J. Minish was 91; his cause of death was not disclosed.
Minish, a longtime resident of West Orange, N.J., was first elected to the House of Representatives from the state’s 11th district in 1962. Previously, he had worked in organized labor for the Congress of Industrial Organizations and its successor organization, the AFL-CIO.
In 1983, Minish became the chairman of the newly created House Page Board. The board was developed in the aftermath of a scandal in which Reps. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) and Daniel Crane (R-Ill.) admitted to having affairs with 17-year-old House pages. Minish oversaw reforms to the House page system, including the construction of a dormitory for the pages near the Capitol.
Minish’s colleague in the New Jersey delegation, former Rep. Frank Guarini (D), said Minish didn’t stray from his union roots. “He cared about the Democratic Party and labor, and he was always railing against profiteers, always looking out for the little guy,” Guarini said.[IMGCAP(1)]
Minish’s last name made many of his constituents think he was Jewish, Guarini said, so he “got the Jewish vote, too.” But, Guarini added, Minish was in fact Catholic and “very proud of his Italian heritage.”
“He would bus people down [to Washington, D.C.] every time he was sworn in, and one bus was always filled with food — Italian pasta from the Italian part of Jersey,” Guarini said. “One time the bus stopped suddenly, and all the food jumped forward. It took a whole day to clean the bus. Joe asked if he could send his people over to my swearing-in celebration.”
Most politicians do favors for one another, Guarini said, but Minish took it a step further.
“He did favors for people before they asked,” Guarini said. “Joe would always perceive what people needed. You never had to ask him for anything — he was one step ahead of you.”
John Salamone, the executive director of the National Italian American Foundation, said Minish was “very involved” in the 1975 founding of the organization and remained active during its early years. Salamone, who previously worked as legislative director for former Rep. Frank Annunzio (D-Ill.), said Minish and his former boss were “the best of friends” during their time in Congress.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who currently represents part of Minish’s old district, cited Minish’s legislative accomplishments in the field of health, but he said that for Minish, “what happened in his district was more important than whatever took place under the aura of the Capitol Dome. He embodied the phrase, ‘All politics is local.’”
“He was a real giant of a person,” Pascrell added. “He was a man of character.”
Minish, born in Throop, Pa., on Sept. 1, 1916, was the son of a coal miner who died young from black lung disease. Minish provided for the family throughout his teenage years and later served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
A funeral mass for Minish was held Wednesday morning at St. Joseph’s Church in West Orange, N.J.