Martin S. Fox was 28-years-old in 1952 when he challenged Rep. Robert W. Kean (R-Livingston) in a race for Congress.
Now 94 and New Jersey’s longest living congressional candidate, the Millburn resident said he expects to vote for Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill) next year against his former opponent’s grandson, Thomas Kean, Jr.
“I’ve been a Democrat all my life,” Fox told the New Jersey Globe.
A World War II Army lieutenant and Harvard Law School graduate, Essex County Democratic chairman Dennis Carey gave him the nod to run for Congress.
“It was a district that had been gerrymandered,” said Fox, the only living challenger to Kean, who was seeking re-election to an eighth term. “It was a thrilling experience. I’m glad I did it.”
Fox’s father, Jacob Fox, was a prominent Essex County political insider as the counsel to the Newark Board of Education.
That led him to Harry Lerner, a 47-year-old insurance executive and former freeholder candidate who served as his campaign manager. Lerner would later become one of the most powerful Democratic bosses in the state.
Kean won that race by 14,903 votes, 55%-45%.
Fox ran again two years later – President Dwight Eisenhower’s mid-term election – and nearly unseated Kean in what was the closest New Jersey House race that year. Kean won by 6,837 votes, 53%-47%.
“It was a stormy, windy, rainy day,” Fox said. “The turnout was much lower.”
The Newark Evening News jumped the gun after early vote counts showed Fox ahead and declared him the winner.
“I still have the paper. It says, ‘Fox wins for Congress,’” he recalled. “They screwed up.”
Fox said he had a decent relationship with Robert Kean.
“We did not become enemies. He was a gentleman,” said Fox. “We disagreed sharply on issues, but we didn’t come out hating each other.”
Still, Fox said he never voted for Kean, or his son, Thomas H. Kean, Sr., who ran five times for State Assembly in a district that included Millburn and twice for governor. He said he didn’t vote for Kean, Jr. when he represented Millburn in the legislature between 2001 and 2011.
Fox never ran for office again, although he managed Irvington mayor Thomas Holleran’s unsuccessful campaign for an open seat when Kean ran for the U.S. Senate in 1958. He spent nine years on the state Board of Education under governors Robert Meyner and Richard Hughes, and was general counsel to the New Jersey Highway Authority under Gov. Brendan Byrne.
Asked if he is backing Malinowski for re-election to a second term in 2020, Fox was quick to say yes.
“I would expect to,” he said.