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Former Rep. Herbert C. Klein.

Happy 91st birthday to former Congressman Herb Klein

Klein is second-oldest living former New Jersey House member

By David Wildstein, June 24 2021 10:46 am

New Jersey’s second-oldest living former congressman is celebrating his 91st birthday today.

Herbert C. Klein spent two years in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1993 to 1995.

The state’s oldest-living congressman is Frank J. Guarini, 96, a former state senator from Jersey City who served as Hudson County’s congressman from 1979 to 1993.

New Jersey has three living congressmen who preceded Guarini and Klein in the House: Andrew Maguire (D-Ridgewood), 82, represented Bergen County in Congress from 1975 to 1981; 83-year-old Jim Florio (D-Runnemede),  a former assemblyman from Camden County who was a congressman from 1975 until he became governor in 1990; and Harold Hollenbeck (R-East Rutherford), an 82-year-old former assemblyman and state senator who won a House seat in 1976 and held it for three terms.  Maguire, Florio and Hollenbeck all ousted incumbents.

Klein began his political career in 1971, seeing a seat in the New Jersey State Assembly from District 14A in Passaic County.  In the years immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s One-Man, One-Vote decision, some counties had single-member Assembly districts.  That practice ended in 1973, when New Jersey switched to the current 40-member map.

In that race, the Clifton Democrat ousted two-term Republican Assemblyman Joseph Scancarella (R-Passaic) by 1,888 votes, 52.7%-47.3%.  That was GOP Gov. William Cahill’s mid-term election and Demcorats picked up 20 Assembly seats that year.

Two years later, Klein ran for re-election in the newly-constituted 34th district, which included Passaic, Clifton, Totowa, Woodland Park (then West Paterson), Little Falls and Haledon.

Redistricting in 1973 put two first-term state senators, Joseph Hirkala (D-Passaic) and William  Bate (D-Clifton) into the same district, along with Klein.  Passaic County Democrats picked Hirkala, the influential Passaic City Clerk, for the Senate and Bate ran for Assembly with Klein.

Seeking a political comeback in 1973 in a bid for his old Assembly seat, Scancarella was unable to subside the effects of the Watergate wave election that led to a 66-14 Democratic Assembly majority and lost to Klein by 11,602 votes.  Clifton Councilman Thomas Cupo finished fourth.

(Scancarella was later nominated to serve as a Superior Court Judge by Gov. Thomas Kean, with whom he’d served in the Assembly.  At age 82, he remains in holdover as a member of the State Commission of Investigation.)

During his second term, he was the chairman of the Assembly Democratic Caucus – a post now known as Conference Leader.

Klein was among the casualties of Brendan Byrne’s 1975 mid-term elections, where Democrats lost 17 seats – most of them in largely GOP districts that Democrats won during Watergate.

Emil Olszowy, a Passaic City Councilman, ousted Klein by 472 votes.  Bate ran more than 6,900 votes ahead of Klein.

Klein, who went to Harvard Law School and ran a successful law firm, later became a trustee at Rutgers University.

After Rep. Robert Roe (D-Wayne), a powerful 12-term Democrat who had served as chairman of two full House committees, retired in 1992, Klein became a candidate in a district where Democratic primary voters were nearly evenly split between Essex and Passaic counties,

With the Passaic County Demcoratic organization line and a huge warchest, Klein defeated Assemblyman Harry McEnroe (D-South Orange) by 2,670 votes, 39%-28%, in a five-candidate field.   Klein beat McEnroe by 28 points in Passaic County; in Essex, off-the-line candidate Claire Lagarmasini, a Montclair attorney, ran 1,133 votes ahead of McEnroe, with Klein in third – just 724 votes behind the Essex assemblyman.

The general election was considered a toss-up.  The newly-drawn 8th district had backed George Bush for President in 1988 by a 55%-45% margin over Michael Dukakis, and the Republican candidate was Joseph Bubba (R-Wayne), a four-term state senator and former Passaic County Freeholder.

Klein outspent Bubba by a 3-1 margin and scored a 12,068-vote plurality, 47%-41%.  Gloria Kolodziej, a Democrat who had served two terms as the non-partisan mayor of Clifton, ran an an independent and won 8% of the vote.   Klein beat Bubba 35%-39% in Passaic, where Passaic received 12.5%, and won Essex by six points.

The 8th district backed Bill Clinton for President in 1992 by a 45%-42% margin.

As a congressman, Klein served on the House Banking Committee and the House Science Committee.

For the second time in his political career, Klein became a victim of a mid-term election. Republicans won 54 seats and control of the House in the middle of Clinton’s first term.

Klein’s Republican challenger was Bill Martini, a Passaic County Freeholder and former Clifton Councilman.  Martini beat him by 1,833 votes, carrying the Passaic County portion of the district by 589 votes and Essex by 1,244.

Martini, defeated in 1996 by Paterson Mayor Bill Pascrell, Jr. by just three points in a district that gave Clinton a 58%-34% win over Bob Dole, now serves as a U.S. District Court Judge.

New Jersey has 16 living former congressmen:  Jim Courter (R-Allamuchy), 79, who served from 1979 to 1991; Jim Saxton (R-Mount Holly), 78, who served from 1985 to 2009; Dick Zimmer (R-Delaware), 76, who served from 1991 to 1997; Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding), both 75 and both who served from 1995 to 2019; Martini, 74; Rush Holt (D-Hopewell), 72, who served from 1999 to 2015; Bob Torricelli (D-Englewood), 70, who served from 1983 until he took his U.S. Senate seat in 1997; Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township), who turns 69 on Friday, served from 2009 to 2019; Steve Rothman (D-Englewood), 68, served from 1997 to 2013; Rob Andrews (D-Haddon Heights) 64, who served from 1990 to 2014; Scott Garrett (R-Wantage), 61, served from 2003 to 2017; Michael Pappas (R-Franklin), 60, served from 1997 to 1999; Thomas MacArthur (R-Toms River), 60, served from 2015 to 2019;

The youngest former New Jersey congressman is 47-year-old Jon Runyan (R-Moorestown), who served two terms and declined to run for re-election in 2014.   Mike Ferguson (R-Warren, 50, left Congress in 2008 after four term.

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