In 1997, a political tip sheet started appearing. It was called “PolitifaxNJ,” and it was witty, informative, and trenchant. “Who’s writing this?” I wondered. The masthead said “Editor and Publisher—Nick Acocella.” Didn’t know him. So I called and booked an interview with him for what was then called NJN News.
He worked out of the basement apartment of his Hoboken brownstone. What he produced there was a weekly digest of gossip, analysis, and information, all presented in the voice of the knowing insider. His “Quote of the week” was always funny. His “Who’s Hot?” was unassailable. And his “Winners and Losers” was closely watched by the people it chronicled.
There weren’t too many of us journalists who found covering New Jersey politics a fascinating pursuit. Nick was one of them. When I left him that first day in Hoboken, I left knowing I had a new companion at press events and a new friend.
Saturday night, the light went out in Nick’s beautiful soul. He died, at home in Hoboken, around 9:30 p.m., surrounded by his grown children, Bart and Francesca, and his wife Laura.
“He died peacefully in his recliner with his wife brushing his hair,” Laura told me.
Nick had been battling cancer for about 6 months.
If you ever watched “Reporters Roundtable,” you know how tart he could be and how insightful. That’s why I always sat him to my immediate left where I could bask a little in his glow. Sometimes I thought I should give the other guests a week off and just riff with Nick.
His crowning achievement was getting off the ground his pipe dream of a show, “Pasta and Politics with Nick Acocella.” Half-cooking show, half political talk show, it was the most iconoclastic program of its kind in the country—because it was the only program of its kind in the country. What other state puts its politicians on public television wearing aprons and getting their hands wet?
Nick was 77. News of his death spread so quickly on Sunday.
Governor Murphy put out a statement saying “No one covering Jersey politics was more Jersey than Nick Acocella. He was that rare breed who could handicap all the important races, share his favorite pasta recipe, and analyze the Yankees lineup—and all within the same five-minute chat.”
Former Governor Chris Christie wrote, “He had an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and an extraordinary love of cooking. I was proud to be the very first guest on ‘Pasta and Politics,’ his great show on NJTV; but every conversation I had with Nick was like an episode of that show. We love you, Nick.”
Senate President Steve Sweeney wrote, “Nick was a unique man who possessed an acquired knowledge of how politics really works and an innate understanding of the people who make it work. He was respected and truly liked by everyone. He brought a real passion to all his pursuits, especially baseball, cooking, New Jersey politics and his family.”
As for me, he was the guy I always wanted to sit with at a political dinner.
He was one of a kind.
He was the kind of guy of whom everyone said, “He gets it.”
He energized me.
He was my friend.