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Scion of one of New Jersey’s oldest political families becomes first Kean to win House seat in 66 years

Tom Kean, Jr. headed to Congress, a job his great-grandfather’s great-grandfather once held

By David Wildstein, November 11 2022 9:41 am

Rep.-elect Thomas H. Kean, Jr. is the first Kean to win a congressional seat since 1956 – and the first in his family to oust an incumbent since 1938.

Some Kean family history, as it relates to congressional campaigns:

* This is the second run for the 7th district House seat for Kean, Jr.  He ran in 2000 when Rep. Bob Franks gave up his seat to run for U.S. Senate but lost the Republican primary by 3,390 votes.

* Tom Kean, Sr. ran for Congress in 1974 when Rep. Peter Frelinghuysen retired.  The Assembly minority leader and former speaker, Kean lost the Republican primary to Millicent Fenwick by 83 votes.  He was elected governor on his second try seven years later and re-elected by a record 70% in 1985.

* Robert W. Kean, father of the former governor, won the GOP nomination for Congress in 1938 by 713 votes against Montclair Commissioner Dallas Townsend.  He defeated freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Towey Jr. (D-Caldwell) in 1938 by 12,118 votes, 55%-41%.  Kean was re-elected nine times before giving up his seat to run for an open U.S. Senate seat in 1958.

* Hamilton Fish Kean, Robert Kean’s father, lost the Republican U.S. Senate primary in 1924.  He ran again four years later and toppled freshman incumbent Edward Edwards, a former governor, by a 58%-42% margin.  Gov. A. Harry Moore beat him 58%-41% when he sought a second term in 1934.

* John Kean, Hamilton Kean’s brother, ran for Congress in 1882 and defeated four-term incumbent Miles Ross, a former mayor of New Brunswick, by a 48%-41% margin.  He lost his seat two years later to former Elizabeth city councilman Robert Stockton Green by a 51%-46% margin.  Green gave up his seat to run for governor in 1886 – he won – and Kean reclaimed his House seat in a 47%-45% win against Democrat William McMahon.  He lost the seat again in 1888, with Democrat Jacob Geissenhainer beating him 52%-46%.

John Kean was the Republican nominee for governor in 1892 but lost the general election.  He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1899 and was re-elected in 1905.  He did not see re-election to a third term.

* John Kean, the great-grandfather of Tom Kean, Jr.’s great-grandfather, was elected to represent South Carolina in the Continental Congress in 1785.  He served two years, and later accepted President George Washington’s appointment as cashier of the Bank of the United States in Philadelphia.

The relationship between the Kean and Malinowski families goes back to the Civil War when two clans were both political allies of Abraham Lincoln.

Col. John Kean, the great-great-grandfather of Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr., was among the founders of the New Jersey Republican Party in 1856.   Simon Cameron, a former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, was the great-great-grandfather of Rep. Tom Malinowski’s step-father, Blair Clark.

Kean was an insider’s insider.  He was a shareholder of railroads in Camden, Middlesex, Union and Somerset counties, the owner of a bank, and gas and water utility companies.  He owned three water-powered mills on the Elizabeth River.

In the 1860 presidential election, New Jersey backed a favorite son for the Republican nomination, with former U.S. Senator William Dayton receiving 14 votes from New Jersey GOP delegates on the first ballot.

Kean was supposed to deliver New Jersey’s delegates to New York Senator William Seward on he second ballot, but he wound up cutting a deal with Lincoln.

He lost four New Jersey delegates to Lincoln on the second ballot.  On the third ballot, New Jersey gave Lincoln eight votes, with five going to William Seward and just one holding for Dayton.  Lincoln won the nomination on the third ballot.

Five weeks into the Lincoln presidency, the Civil War began.  Kean received a no-bid contract from the War Department to manufacture gun parts for the Union Army.

The Secretary of War who approved the Kean contract was Cameron.  He held the post for less than a year before Lincoln replaced him with Edwin Stanton following allegations of careless management.

The next generation of the two families would intersect later in the 19th century.

John Kean, Col. Kean’s son, represented a Union County-based district in Congress for two non-consecutive terms in the late 1880s.   Donald Cameron, who had served as Ulysses Grant’s Secretary of War, was a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania while John Kean was a congressman from New Jersey.

President Calvin Coolidge nominated Cameron’s grandson, William Clark, to the U.S. District Court of New Jersey in 1925.  In those days, Coolidge probably would have sought the consent of the Republican National Committeeman from New Jersey, Hamilton Kean, before making that nomination.  Hamilton Kean, Col. Kean’s son and the great-grandfather of the current Senate Minority Leader, won a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey in 1928.

Malinowski’s step-father, Clark, was the son of Judge Clark.  A former CBS News executive, Clark was press secretary for Averill Harriman’s 1956 presidential campaign and campaign manager for Eugene McCarthy when he challenged Lyndon B. Johnson for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968.

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