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Former Assemblywoman Greta Kiernan. (Photo: Greta Kiernan).

Greta Kiernan, former assemblywoman, dies at 89

Ex-League of Women Voters lobbyist worked for five governors, congressman, legislators

By David Wildstein, January 06 2023 12:05 am

Greta Kiernan, a one-term Democratic assemblywoman from Bergen County in the 1970s who went on to serve as a hugely effective and popular staffer for five governors, a congressman and several state legislators and was a three-time Jeopardy champion, died on January 3.  She was 89.

As a lawmaker, Kiernan sponsored legislation appropriating funds for flood zones, expanding penalties for sex discrimination, and assistance for homemakers who suddenly found themselves alone after years of marriage.  Kiernan and State Sen. Wynona Lipman (D-Newark) wrote a law creating the New Jersey Commission on Sex Discrimination in the Statutes.  

Kiernan was the last Democrat to have defeated Gerald Cardinale, a Republican who went on to serve more than 41 years in the New Jersey Legislature. 

Kiernan had served as a lobbyist for the New Jersey League of Women Voters and was serving as an aide to Senate President Matthew Feldman, a Teaneck Democrat, when she entered the race for an Assembly seat in 1977.  She had also spent five years as the Harrington Park Democratic municipal chair.

Kiernan teamed up with two-term Assemblyman Harold Martin (D-Cresskill), for whom she had previously worked as a legislative aide.  The Bergen County Democratic Organization backed Kiernan over Northvale Mayor William Lenskold and Westwood Democratic Club President Betty Grant. 

She defeated Cardinale, the mayor of Demarest, by 2,939 votes and John Inganamort, a future GOP county chairman, by 2,985. 

The 39th had gone Democratic in the 1973 Watergate landslide, but the GOP clawed back one Assembly seat when Westwood Mayor John Markert won in 1975.  State Sen. Raymond Garramone (D-Haworth) gave up his seat after one term to challenge Gov. Brendan Byrne in the Democratic primary, and Markert was the favorite to flip the seat.  But Democrats held the 39th and former Bergen County Freeholder Frank X. Herbert beat Markert by 3,076 votes, 53%-47%.

As an assemblywoman, Kiernan served on the Appropriations and State Government committees. 

Cardinale and Markert teamed up to run for Assembly in 1979 and beat Kiernan and Martin by over 6,000 votes.

After she left the legislature, Kiernan became an aide to her former colleague, Assemblyman Albert Burstein (D-Tenafly).

At Byrne’s recommendation, Kiernan joined the government relations staff at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1980.

In 1985, Kiernan managed the unsuccessful Assembly campaign of 27-year-old Joseph Ferriero, a former Dumont Councilman, in the 39th district.

When Bergen County switched to a county executive form of government in 1986, Kiernan ran for freeholder but lost in the Republican sweep that year.  While losing by over 8,000 votes, she still ran first among the seven Democratic candidates in the general election that year.

After the election, Republicans asked Kiernan to serve on a panel that wrote Bergen County’s code of ethics. 

Kiernan sought a second comeback in 1989 in the 38th district, but lost to incumbents Pat Schuber (R-Oradell) and Pat Roma (R-Palisades Park) by roughly 4,900 votes.

She served as a legislative aide to State Sen. Paul Contillo (D-Paramus) until 1991, when she joined Gov. Jim Florio’s administration as director of legislative affairs for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

After Democrat Rush Holt (D-Hopewell) won a congressional seat in 1998, he hired Kiernan to work as a special assistant in his district office.  She later worked as the chief of staff to Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro). 

She joined Gov. James E. McGreevey’s administration in 2002 in the Office of Constituent Relations and remained three under Governors RIchard Codey and Jon Corzine.

After moving to Plainsboro, Kiernan served on the Planning Board from 2002 to 2021, and as a trustee of the public library from 2009 to 2021.

Predeceased by her husband, Richard, Kiernan is survived by her six children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be held on Monday from 2-5 PM at the Boylan Funeral Home in New Brunswick, followed by a funeral mass at the Our Lady of Victories Roman Catholic Church in Harrington Park.


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