Robert E. Hamer, who served as an Assemblyman from Bergen County and as a Superior Court Judge, died on July 4. He was 88.
The New Jersey Globe regrets missing his passing, as The (Bergen) Record surely does as well.
Hamer was a 35-year-old Ho-Ho-Kus attorney when he caught the coattails of Gov. Richard Hughes to win a seat in the State Assembly in 1965. Hughes carried Bergen County by 41,100 votes in his successful bid for a second term.
In those days, Bergen County had seven Assembly seats, and all were elected at-large. Hammer ran third, behind Vito Albanese and Lee Carlton, and ahead of Arnold Brown. Jerome Yesko and John Skevin. Two-term incumbent Joseph Woodcock was the lone Republican survivor, beating Democrat Stephen Moses, later a North Jersey political power, by 2,511 votes. Hamer finishing 4,232 votes ahead of the Republican who finished in eighth place.
During Hamer’s first year in the Assembly, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court’s one-man, one vote decision necessitated a mid-decade congressional redistricting. Rep. William Widnall (R-Ridgewood) represented a district that included parts of Bergen and Passaic and all of Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon. Hughes had called it a “boomerang district” because of its odd shape to pack Republicans in.
Widnall’s new district sat entirely in Bergen County, although many of the most Democratic areas were sent to the neighboring 9th district, where freshman Henry Helstoski was in a rematch against the Republican congressman he ousted two years earlier.
Hamer decided to challenge Widnall, who spent fourteen years as an assemblyman before winning a 1950 special election and was the Ranking Minority Member of the House Banking Committee.
The primary was held in September since the congressional map wasn’t approved until around mid-June. He won the primary with 81% against two anti-Vietnam candidates.
Hamer criticized Widnall for being too conservative and said he had accomplished practically nothing during his seventeen years in Congress. Widnall won by 50,049 votes, 66%-34%.
Also in 1966, New Jersey held a Constitutional Convention that included a plan for Assembly districts in the next election. Reapportionment divided Bergen County into five dual-member Assembly districts, with five State Senators running countywide.
Ho-Ho-Kus was placed in District 13E, which included Ridgewood, Fair Lawn and Franklin Lakes. The district was heavily Republican in those days and Hamer got clobbered against Republicans Richard Vander Plaat and Richard DeKorte, losing by a 2-1 margin.
After Democrats took control of the Bergen County Board of Freeholders in 1974, Hamer was appointed Assistant County Counsel at the request of Freeholder Director Jeremiah O’Connor, who had won a State Senate seat on the 1965 Democratic ticket with Hamer. He had also served as Waldwick Township Attorney, appointed by Mayor Frank X. Herbert, who later won a State Senate seat.
In January 1981, Gov. Brendan Byrne appointed Hamer to serve as a judge in the Juvenile Domestic Relations Court in Bergen County. He retired as a Superior Court Judge when he turned 70 in 2000.
Hamer was survived by his wife of 65 years, June, five children, ten grandchildren and one great-grandchild. The Hamer family asked that donations be made to the Tidewell Hospice of Venice, Florida.