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Farewell, Eric

The mayor who loomed large

A one-word billboard on Admiral Wilson Boulevard said it all: ERRICHETTI.

It was 1977, I was a cub reporter, and Angelo Errichetti was running for a second term as mayor of Camden. And late last week, when I heard that Eric had died, I was reminded of that billboard – bold, brash and perched atop the shuttered Sears store.  Like his beleaguered city, the man was tough and tenacious, but sadly flawed and self-defeating.

"Eric" smoked, joked and knew how to play hardball in an ice cream suit; he was witty and profane, smart and shrewd – particularly about the care and feeding of newspaper people. He liked headlines but loved Camden, and his city loved  him back: He won re-election with 88 percent of the vote.

From the fourth floor of City Hall Errichetti chased the big projects, the big fix that would stop Camden from falling to pieces. Gone were the days of urban renewal; the city needed urban salvation, and the mayor thought a VA hospital downtown would do the trick. He never forgave Jimmy Carter's administration for axing it.

But Errichetti did succeed in paving the way for the waterfront, which was no small thing. He attracted bright young talent into city government and politics. And he was at ease smoking, joking and breaking bread with neighborhood residents from North to South Camden, and everywhere in between.

Three years into his second term, "my troubles beset me," as he would put it in a later interview.  Troubles, indeed: There was Errichetti, who had seemed so much larger than life, looking small in a squalid black-and-white video, accepting cash from phony "Abscam" sheiks. It was over.

But after prison he came home to his beloved "Dodie" and their Cape Cod on Dayton Street in Whitman Park. Later they moved to Cherry Hill, Dodie died, and Eric almost did: A heart attack ended his signature cigarettes, but he could still hold court at Ponzio's in Cherry Hill.

He emigrated to the Shore, doted on his grandson and did consulting work. In 2010, he granted an interview - at Ponzio's, of course - and, suave as ever, he pronounced himself happy to be alive.

Now the Camden story in which Errichetti played such a memorable role for so long will unfold without him.

Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor.

UPDATED: 4:30 pm