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Bryan J. Christiansen, a former four-term mayor of Edgewater who later became the executive director of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and nearly went to the State Assembly, has died. He was 65.
Christiansen was 23 and the chairman of the Edgewater Rent Leveling Board in 1978 when local Democrats picked him to run for the borough council in 1978. Republicans had controlled the Edgewater council for twelve years.
He was the top vote-getter in the general election, defeated Republican Raymond Wirth by a 59%-41% margin. His running mate, Agnes Merse, a former school board president and wife of a former councilman, became the first woman to win a council seat in Edgewater.
In 1981, Christiansen resigned from the council to take a new job in Florida.
Christiansen returned to Edgewater in 1983 and reclaimed his council seat. Running again with Merse, who had left the council briefly due to a family illness, the two Democrats defeated Republicans Terry Jacobs and Kenneth Campbell by a wide margin.
He became the council president after that election.
Edgewater Democrats survived a close call in 1986 when initial results had Christiansen leading Republican Susan Murphy by just 7 votes, 814 to 807; Merse ran three votes ahead of Christiansen. A recount kept those totals intact.
Mayor Thomas Tansey declined to seek re-election in 1987 and Christiansen became a candidate for mayor. In a close race, Christiansen defeated Republican Councilman Douglas DeRito by 16 votes, 796 to 780, a 50.5%-49.5% margin.
Democrats held control of the council that year by a slightly wider margin.
Christiansen as re-elected by a 2-1 margin over Republican Councilman, Gerard Peterson in 1991. He defeated Republican Albert Von Dohln by a 59%-41% margin in 1995.
He faced a close call in 1999, when voters began to rebel against the construction of high-rise luxury apartment buildings and a multiplex movie theater. Bruce Doneff, running under the Independent Coalition for a Better Edgewater, held Christiansen to an 84-vote, 46%-45% win. Christiansen’s 1986 GOP opponent, now running as Susan Murphy Klamm, received 9% despite dropping out of the race and endorsing Doneff.
In 2003, Christiansen became a candidate for the State Assembly in the politically competitive 38th district.
Two years earlier, Democrat Joseph Coniglio (D-Paramus) had unseated three-term incumbent Louis Kosco (R-Paramus) for the 38th district State Senate seat, and former Fair Law Mayor Matthew Ahearn ousted ten-term Assemblyman Nicholas Felice (R-Fair Lawn). Assemblywoman Rose Heck (R-Hasbrouck Heights), the lone survivor of the 2001 legislative redistricting that added Democrats towns like Fort Lee to the 38th to break the GOP hold on the district, left the Assembly in 2003 to challenge Coniglio for the Senate.
Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero has withdrawn party support for the independent-minded Ahearn in 2003. Ahearn became a member of the Green Party – the last independent to serve in the New Jersey Legislature.
Ferriero picked Christiansen to run for the Assembly, along with former Fair Lawn Mayor Robert Gordon. Republicans ran Bergen County Freeholder Louis Tedesco and Ed Trawinski, a former Assistant Commissioner of Commerce under Gov. Thomas Kean.
After the primary, Ferriero engineered a candidate switch, pulling Christiansen out of the race. Ferriero had recently become counsel to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission and became increasingly concerned that Christiansen’s $313,00-a-year job as executive director and his connection to the county political boss could pull down the 38th district slate.
Christiansen was replaced on the Assembly ticket by Fort Lee Councilwoman Joan Voss. He had given up his mayoral post to run for Assembly and was succeeded by his ex-running mate, Merse.
In early 2010, Christiansen left his PVSC job after newly-elected Gov. Chris Christie targeted excessive spending at the utility authority.
Christiansen also served as chairman of the Bergen County Utilities Authority and as executive director of the Joint Meeting of Essex & Union Counties.