SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Mayor Frank Gambatese, who became the township's longest-serving mayor (and only its second to be directly elected), has died at age 81.

Gambatese, a Democrat, served as mayor since 2002. He was elected to the Township Committee in 1997

He previously had served as mayor of West Paterson, which later changed its name to Woodland Park.

He and his wife moved to South Brunswick in 1992 to live out their retirement. But the retired accountant and politician was swept back up into public service, spending his octogenarian years at countless council and municipal board meetings, he revealed in a TAPinto South Brunswick-Cranbury profile on his 80th birthday last year.

Township officials announced Gambatese's death Saturday, saying he would be "remembered as a tireless advocate" for a township that has held onto much of its open spaces amid a densely populated Middlesex County.

The population in the 41-square-mile town has grown from less than 26,000 in 1990 to almost 46,000 today.

Among the developments and businesses that moved into South Brunswick during his tenure were Target, Best Buy and Coca-Cola.

Counted among his achievements as mayor are the preservation of 187 acres of open space, including the historic Princeton Nursery, and securing grants for a Route 1 widening project.

He is survived by two sons and three daughters. His late wife, Ellen, died in 2012.

Funeral arrangements were not available Saturday.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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