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Former New Jersey First Lady Helen Meyner campaigns for Conrgess in 1974. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ALICE PAUL CENTER)

The last NJ First Lady to run for Congress

Helen Meyner ousted a freshman GOP congressman from Morris County in 1974

By David Wildstein, February 06 2019 1:07 am

If Mary Pat Christie runs for Congress, she wouldn’t be the first former First Lady of New Jersey to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In 1974, Helen Stevenson Meyner defeated freshman Rep. Joseph Maraziti (R-Boonton) in what was drawn to be a solidly Republican district.  It included Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren counties, part of Morris, and a few towns in western Mercer.

Meyner came with a political pedigree: she was a cousin of Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson (and a staffer on his campaigns); and the daughter of William Stevenson, a former Oberlin College president and U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines under John F. Kennedy.

After working as a journalist, she married New Jersey’s bachelor governor, Robert Meyner, in 1957 and spent five years as First Lady.  After Congress, the Meyner’s returned to their home in Phillipsburg.

Meyner ran for Congress against Maraziti, then a state senator, in 1972 and lost 56%-43%.  Still, she ran thirteen points better than Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in a district where Richard Nixon won 70% of the vote.

Maraziti won a seat on the House Judiciary Committee and staunchly defended Nixon during nationally televised impeachment hearings.  He voted against all three articles of impeachment.

When the 45-year-old Meyner ran again in 1974, Watergate wasn’t Maraziti’s only albatross.

Maraziti, 62, dealt with scandals of his own: he had put a 35-year-old woman on his congressional payroll while she continued to work at his Morris County law firm.  She was ousted after applying for a loan with the Congressional Credit Union; a Maraziti staffer answering the phone said the woman didn’t work in his office.

Later in the campaign, the Hackettstown Star-Gazette fired their managing editor after the Meyner campaign said that the editor was also on Maraziti’s staff.

The race wasn’t even close: Meyner beat Maraziti by 21,877 votes – 57%-43%.

Meyner spent four years representing the staunchly Republican seat before losing to Jim Courter in 1978.

Recent First Ladies have not always fared as well as Meyner.

In 2012, former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack ran against Rep. Steve King and lost 53%-45%.

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