Nicholas Acocella, writer, baseball historian, and legendary New Jersey political pundit, died on June 20 at his home in Hoboken, New Jersey. He was 77. The cause of death was cancer.
He is survived by his devoted wife of 29 years, Laura (Eliasoph) Acocella; his adored children, Bart Acocella (Maura Dougherty) of Washington, DC and Francesca Rebecca Acocella, Esq.; grandchildren Caroline and James Acocella; a niece, Thea Cimmino (Dean Butler); a nephew, Anthony Cimmino; dozens of beloved cousins; and legions of friends and admirers. He was pre-deceased by his parents, Bartholomew and Christine (D’Orsi) Acocella, and a sister, Marie Elaina Cimmino.
He was born February 7, 1943 in Jersey City and raised in West New York, New Jersey. He attended St. Peter’s Prep and received a bachelor’s degree from LaSalle University in Philadelphia, spending his junior year studying abroad in Vienna, a formative experience where he forged some of his most lasting friendships.
He retained the working-class values of his upbringing, at the same time that he was exceedingly well-educated, earning a master’s degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley – where he met his first wife, Joan (Ross) Acocella, and where he was “the only student in the English department who owned shoes.” He went on to further post-graduate work at Fairleigh Dickinson University, the University of Delaware and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.
After spending one year as a high school teacher in Bergen County, he enjoyed an eclectic, unconventional career at the nexus of politics, sports and journalism. For a decade, he was the Director of Operations for News Election Service – “the only real job I ever had,” he called it – a consortium established by the national networks and wire services to tabulate election returns.
He spent most of the 1970s as a freelance writer, while dabbling in Hudson County politics, and he would eventually author or co-author several books, most of them on baseball, with his collaborator and friend, Donald Dewey. In 2000, he won a Sports Emmy for his work as a producer on ESPN’s SportsCentury series. He was also the political correspondent for Attenzione!, a magazine devoted to Italian-American life and culture.
For the last 23 years, he was the editor, publisher and sole proprietor of Politifax New Jersey, a subscriber-only newsletter about state politics and a venture that cemented his status as a beloved and irreverent insider. He was a regular on Reporters Roundtable with Michael Aron. And in 2015, he launched Pasta & Politics with Nick Acocella, a public television talk show where he interviewed New Jersey political figures as they prepared a meal of the guest’s choosing.
His passions were too numerous to enumerate in full, but among them: his Italian-American heritage, the New York Yankees, military history and Frank Sinatra. His heroes included Mel Brooks and Roger Angell, neither of whom he could have imagined would outlive him. A light- hitting second baseman, he played softball in Central Park every spring and summer Sunday morning into his 50s. He was a proud booster of all things New Jersey – including mandatory full-service gas stations – and a debunker of all state stereotypes.
He loved to eat and cook, relishing in particular the Italian tradition of a seven-course, all-fish meal on Christmas Eve. A day without pasta, he was known to say, is a day wasted. He spent considerable time in the late 1980s on an extended search for the best fried calamari in northern New Jersey. He was un-ironically retro – with no real use for popular music recorded after Rubber Soul. Invited once to a party at Studio 54, he quipped that he was pretty sure he was their only patron ever to be wearing wingtips.
He was unfailingly affable and extroverted, but also private and dignified. He was a maverick and iconoclast, deeply skeptical of technological progress. Although Politifax would, notwithstanding its name, quickly become an electronic newsletter, it never had a website or a social media presence. He defiantly refused to own or carry a cell phone.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you make a gift in his name to the Hoboken Historical Museum or St. Peter’s Prep.
15 thoughts on “Nicholas Acocella – June 20, 2020”
Soon your friends will sing…”Where Have you gone Nick Acocella,? New Jersey turns it’s lonely eyes to you”…
We will miss your intellectual capacity and wit to put it “all” in perspective..
Love and Respect,
Our family lost a true wonderful human being. We are sad but we were blessed to have his wit, intelligence and his love of everyone. His quips and quotes are legendary. I know he left this place, especially New Jersey, a better place. My heart and hugs to, Laura, Bart, Francesca, Thea, Caroline and James and Joan. Nick will always be a legend in our FAMILY. 🙏💔💜
My world is so much richer for having known Nick. As the best friend of my then future husband, Jack Kennedy , he was a fixture in my teenage life. Even back then and throughout his life, his idealism was inspiring, his stories hilarious, his interests myriad, his humor boundless, and his knowledge seemingly endless, and his love of family rock solid. True to himself in every way, he was a splendid human being.
My deepest sympathy to his loving family.
I first met Nick in 1985. He was a speaker to a group of county elected officials. We greeted each other at events every year after that as old friends. He was incredibly bright and insightful when it came to politics. I learned a lot about politics through his work. He was so human and down to earth. I am so glad I had the opportunity to get to know him. He was a wonderful human being. Rest In Peace.
This news was a terribly sad gut punch this morning. My deepest sympathy to Laura, Bart, Francesca & family. I so enjoyed our quarterly lunches and dinners over these past 20+ years (sometimes replaced by Yankee games a couple times a year). I cherished our friendship, his sage always candid advice. While I am so sad today, I know I will have happy memories of a wonderful man until we meet again.
The basement at 8301. Marcel Finishing. The Mick. Crestwood Lake. The Voice singing These Things Remind Me of You. It was an honor to be your cousin.
Nick lived New Jersey and kept us all informed concerning Government at all four levels…Local, County,State, and National. He was a great friend and will be greatly missed. Dr. Edward H. Salmon
Condolences, always looked forward to the next edition of Politifax, honored to have known Nick, honored to have been included in his annual year end round up. He will be sorely missed, an icon and NJ institution. Rest in peace…
I will never know anyone smarter, funnier, or more unforgettable than Nick. He was one of the very best in the world. I will cherish memories of him forever. Tom and I send our deepest sympathy to Laura, to his children, to his family and friends. The world has lost one of its finest people.
When Nick and Laura were planning their wedding, we made plans to travel from Texas to NY to attend. They told us not to come because it would be too hectic and there wouldn’t be time to visit. Instead, they invited us on their honeymoon! That week in Acapulco was one of the best trips ever. Great fun with a truly great couple. We will treasure those memories forever. We are honored to have known and loved Nick, and have Laura and the family in our hearts always. Michael and K.T. McLeaish
Nick, you were one in a million the best cousin. You, me and Linda loved you with all our heart. All of our gatherings Linda and I always looked for you. You are one of a kind and I will miss you so much. Go be with your mom, dad, Gloria, Lou, Marion and Mike and enjoy your time together. Until I see your face again cousin, I love you and rest in peace. Xoxoxo
Nick’s sister Marie Elaina and I were good friends and graduated from St. Joe’s High School in 1964. I will always remember the wonderful hospitality that their parents showed to all “the kids” in the welcoming kitchen basement at 83rd and Newkirk. No matter what time of night Elaina and her friends arrived. Mr. and Mrs. A would pull out amazing Italian food and we would all talk for hours. When Nick appeared at some of these gatherings the conversation really picked up. He could talk on any subject.
I drove to Wisconsin with Nick in 1968 to campaign for Eugene McCarthy. He said that this was his introduction to politics. His death is a real loss to political discourse in the state. Miss him.
I was in school with Nick in Vienna in the early 60’s… what a character he was! He was sweet and smart, and
sometimes impossible, but my memories of him now are so… what word will work? colorful? We were all very young, and going to Europe was something few students did: but it set all our lives on a wonderful path. When I saw his obit in the Times, I felt very sad. Nick was, in those days, one of those people who couldn’t be “silenced” . And now he has been. My condolences to his family.
Los Angeles, Ca.
Nick was unforgettable as a student with us in Vienna in 1962/63. He was hilarious and keep us laughing all year. He was a presence in whatever room he entered. We was loved by us all. I was so sad to hear of his death. How lucky we are to have know him. Deepest sympathy to his family. Janice Swee Morelli
IES Vienna ‘62/‘63
I did not realize that Mr. Acocella passed away until seeing the tribute to him on NJ PBS this evening. I feel very bad, and am so sorry! For his family and friends , for all of us who enjoyed watching Pasta and Politics. He was a great representative of our great state. And a man after my own heart in touting our full service gas stations!!! I am always thankful for that fact – and that we had Mr. Acocella and his talents for as long as we did.