Former Assembly Majority Leader Albert S. Burstein, one of the most intellectually gifted legislators of his era, passed away on December 27. He was 96.
A Jersey City native who had served as executive director and counsel to the Jersey City Charter Commission in 1959.
He lost a bid for the Tenafly Borough Council in 1969.
Burstein was elected to the State Assembly in 1971 to represent a newly-drawn eastern-Bergen County district anchored by Englewood, Fort Lee, Teaneck.
A Democratic screening committee chose Burstein and running mate Byron Baer over former Fort Lee Board of Education President Abraham Safro, Cresskill Democratic Municipal Chairman Charles Dadaian, and Michael Silver, who had lost a bid for East Bergen Assembly District Chairman in 1969.
Baer ran 327 votes ahead of Burstein, who defeated Bergenfield Mayor Charles (Bill) O’Dowd by 2,332 votes. Tenafly councilman Ken Bloom finished fourth.
Burstein immediately emerged as a legislative leader. A month after the election, he was named to lead the three-member Bergen County Democratic delegation to the New Jersey Legislature.
When a group of four Assembly Democrats threatened to defect from 40-39 majority to elect Republican Thomas Kean as speaker, Burstein led a fight within the Democratic caucus to stand firm with their candidate for speaker, S. Howard Woodson (D-Trenton) and refused to make a deal that would make David Friedland (D-Jersey City) the new speaker in exchange for a Democratic majority.
Legislative districts were again redrawn in 1973, creating the new 37th district. Democrats ran Matthew Feldman, the Bergen County Democratic Chairman who had served as a state senator from 1966 to 1968, against incumbent State Sen. Joseph Woodcock (R-Cliffside Park), while Burstein and Baer sought second terms in the Assembly.
In a rematch with O’Dowd in 1973, Burstein won by 14,122 votes. Feldman ousted Woodcock by 11,166 votes, a 59%-41% margin.
Burstein was an ally of Gov. Brendan Byrne during the eight years their terms overlapped.
In 1975, Burstein faced a challenge from Dennis Meehan, who had been elected to the Edgewater Board of Education one year earlier at age 29. His older brother, Francis Meehan, was the mayor of Edgewater.
Burstein outpolled Meehan by 5,235 votes. Englewood councilman Jerry Hersch finished fourth, running 7,937 votes behind Baer.
He sought the Democratic nomination for Congress in 1978, but lost the Democratic primary to Nicholas Mastorelli, the executive director of the North Hudson Council of Mayors, by a 51%-43% margin.
Burstein was elected Assembly Majority Leader after the 1976 election, but was defeated in his bid for re-election to the post by Alan Karcher after the 1979 elections. He lost by four votes.
He announced in February 1981 that he would not seek re-election to a sixth term in the Assembly. He was replaced by Bennett Mazur, a former three-term Bergen County freeholder.
Burstein continue to practice law, eventually joining the Archer law firm. He served as a commissioner of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission until he was in his eighties.
Born November 22, 1922 in Jersey City, Burstein served in the U.S. Army during World War II and received his law degree from Columbia University.
“He was a friend, a predecessor in the legislature, a mentor, and an all-around magnificent man,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) said on her Facebook page. “He remained active in his community right up to the end.”
Funeral services for Burstein will be held at Temple Sinai in Tenafly at 12:45 PM on Sunday.