Candace L. Straight, a savvy investment banker and film producer, zealous advocate for the election of women candidates for state and local office across the nation, and a popular Republican fundraiser, died on June 13 at Hackensack University Medical Center after a short illness. She was 73.
With an enormous network of faithful friends and an extraordinary passion for the political arena, Straight was a force in New Jersey politics for nearly 40 years. She played a key role in the election of Christine Todd Whitman as governor of New Jersey in 1993 and 1997 and held positions in the administrations of three governors.
“Candy was one of those truly special people who, once a friend, was a friend forever. She was my friend and a genuinely good person. She was an early and important supporter of my political career, a fun golf partner, a passionate supporter of Rutgers, a successful movie producer, and so much more,” Whitman said. “Her support for women and their rightful place in the world was a driving force in her life. I will miss her sage counsel, advice and friendship.”
Among the many women Straight helped run for office was Susan Collins, who ran for governor of Maine in 1994 and then won a U.S. Senate seat in 1996.
“Candy Straight has been a dear friend, invaluable mentor, and close political adviser to me during my entire time as an elected official,” Collins told the New Jersey Globe. “As she did with so many other women, Candy encouraged me to take the leap to run for public office 27 years ago. I could always count on her friendship and support. I am so sad to learn of her passing and will miss her so much.”
At a young age, Straight fought gender biases in pursuit of a career in finance.
Offered a secretarial position after her graduation from Wilson College, Straight persevered to get a job on Wall Street. She worked at Banker’s Trust while earning her MBA from New York University and rose from an entry-level analyst job to the position of vice president.
Straight held positions with Fortune 500 corporations like Merck & Co. She was a principal at John Head and Partners, a merchant bank that specialized in the insurance industry.
During Straight’s freshman year of college in 1966, her father, Leroy O. Straight, died at age 43. She spent much of her life as a devoted daughter and sister. She left her full-time work in New York in the 1990s to take her younger brother, Dwight, who was intellectually disabled, on trips across the world before his death in 2000. Her mother, Dorothy – affectionately referred to as “Mother” by national and local political leaders – died in 2007.
A lifelong resident of Bloomfield, Straight was proud of her political roots – especially that her grandmother, Dorothea C. Jewkes, became the first woman to serve on the Bloomfield Township Council when she won in 1956.
After Whitman defeated Gov. Jim Florio in 1993, Straight served on the governor’s Budget Advisory Committee. She also served on Mayor-elect Rudy Giuliani’s Transition Budget Advisory Committee in New York City.
Straight was nominated to the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority by Whitman and served from 1994 to 2003, during the heyday of the authority, and spent seven years as vice chair. Gov. Thomas Kean appointed her to the Public Employees Retirement System board in 1982 and she held the post for six years.
Gov. Chris Christie named Straight to the Rutgers University Board of Governors in 2010. She held that post until 2016. She was part of the team that negotiated legislation in 2012 to realign Rutgers, Rowan University, and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.
She became a candidate for Essex County Executive in 2002 after the incumbent, James Treffinger, eschewed a bid for re-election to a third term in order to run for the U.S. Senate.
Straight initially became a candidate in order to guarantee a line in Essex County for State Sen. Diane Allen, who was also running for the U.S. Senate, but wound up unopposed in the Republican primary when the organization candidate, former Assemblywoman Marion Crecco (R-Bloomfield), dropped out of the race following Treffinger’s withdrawal.
“Candy has really been the energy behind Republican women in New Jersey moving forward for decades,” said Allen, Straight’s longtime friend. “I would not have run for U.S. Senate without her.”
From her hospital bed two weeks ago, Straight bemoaned the lack of foresight by Republican leaders for not backing Allen for the Senate seat in 2002. She believed – as many do – that Allen would have won that general election and might still be in the U.S. Senate today.
Straight mounted an aggressive and vibrant campaign for county executive, even though she knew it was an uphill and likely unsuccessful endeavor.
She lost to Democrat Joseph DiVincenzo by 49,206 votes, a 67%-33% margin. Still, Straight received the highest percentage of any Republican countywide candidate in Essex County in the 21st century. She also ran for Essex County Freeholder-At-Large in 2005.
Straight remains the only woman to win a major party nomination for Essex County Executive.
Her campaign focused on opposition to spend tax dollars to build what is now the Prudential Center in Newark. She attempted to force a countywide referendum to turn the project down, mounting a grassroots petition drive.
One of her closest friends, Gail B. Gordon, viewed Straight as one of the most exceptional people in her life.
“Pioneer, financial mastermind, mentor, friend, political wizard, Jersey treasure and BFF — a lot of people didn’t know that Candy was addicted to Broadway. Her favorite play? A Chorus Line,” Gordon said. “She was and will always be the most ‘singular sensation.’”
Straight frequently converted political relationships into genuine, lasting friendships.
Kathy and Bob Hugin were among them. They met Straight through politics and became exceptionally close personal friends.
“We have lost a true force of nature, a great lady and a dear friend. She fought and won many important causes for women and others who needed a voice,” they said. “We are heart sick. She leaves a void in so many places and ways.”
Straight’s personal friendships often crossed party aisles.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) recalled that she and Straight appeared at an annual “Ready to Run” conference that trains women from both parties on running for public office.
“Candy knew the challenges women face because she fought her way up from an entry-level position on Wall Street to the highest corporate boardrooms. Her documentary on the Equal Rights Amendment will be released soon and will be a fitting capstone to a life well lived,: “Weinberg said. “I will miss her friendship, her bipartisanship, her passion and her fervor.”
Gov. Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy both mourned the passing off Straight, who “while never holding public office, was a tremendous influence on numerous women who have. “
“She leaves a strong legacy of advocacy and leadership not just in New Jersey, but nationwide,” Murphy said. “When we moved to New Jersey more than two decades ago, Candy was among the first to welcome us to our new home… She helped raise the curtain on many careers, and the lights of our politics will be a littler dimmer without her.”
Straight also served on the Wilson College Board of Trustees.
She served as a trustee of the New Jersey Network Foundation and as president of the Financial Women’s Association of New York. She was a director of the ERA Foundation.
Straight served as president of The (Women In the Senate and House) WISH List, a national network that raises money for pro-choice Republican women. She is a co-founder of Women for a Stronger New Jersey, a super PAC formed to help moderate Republican women win elections. In 1992, she served as Republican Co-Chair of the Women’s Campaign Fund.
She was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions in 1996, 2000 and 2004. She served as finance chair for Rep. Bob Franks, a close friend, who ran for the United State Senate in 2000.
In 2015, Straight received the Outstanding Women in Government Award from the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
Straight didn’t hesitate to take on a cause, even when she had no personal stake.
In 2002, she spent her own money to convince registered Republicans in Newark – about 5,000 of them – to support Cory Booker’s bid to oust incumbent Sharpe James in the May non-partisan municipal election. Straight did not know either candidate well, but instinctively seemed to believe that Newark needed new leadership.
Straight became involved in the movie industry about seven years ago when she became concerned about the shortage of women in Hollywood. She served on the board of Rebelle Media, which was committed to making films and television shows centered around women characters that were written, directed and produced mostly by women.
Her first investment was in Equity, a financial thriller film that received largely positive reviews and was the first feature film about women on Wall Street. A political thriller, An Acceptable Loss, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Tika Sumpter, premiered in 2018.
A documentary on the Equal Rights Amendment that she co-produced is expected to be released this year. Tainted Dreams, a soap opera she produced, earned Daytime Emmy Award nominations for Straight in 2014 and 2017.
Straight spoke often about her recollections of campaigning with her grandparents and for President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s.
Her grandfather, Francis R. Jewkes, had served as Bloomfield councilman from 1947 to 1954 when he lost the Republican primary to Joseph Lintott. Her grandmother won the seat back in 1956, finishing second in an eight-candidate Republican primary for three council seats. Bloomfield was a Republican stronghold into the 1980s.
Jewkes remained the only woman to win a Bloomfield council seat until Louise Palagano won in 1984.
Years later, Straight provided scholarships to Bloomfield High School students in memory of her parents and grandparents.
At the time of her death, Straight was a director of Neuberger and Berman, a multi-billion dollar mutual fund. She had served as an advisory director of Securitas Capital and on the board of Drake Holdings, Integon Corporation, Montpelier Re, Providence Washington, National Atlantic Holdings, and Summit Global Partners. She had served as president of Integon from 1990 to 1992.
An avid sports fan, Straight often expressed pride in the successful athletic careers of family who were Bloomfield sports legends.
Her uncle, Frank Tripucka, was the quarterback for the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions during a fourteen-year professional football career. Six of her cousins played Division 1 sports, including Kelly Tripucka, a former Notre Dame basketball star who played in the NBA for the Detroit Pistons, Utah and Charlotte Hornets.
Straight is survived by her two aunts, Randy Tripucka and Frances Martin, her nine cousins, and a multitude of close friends.
Funeral services will be private, and a celebration of her life will be held next month. Donations can be made in her honor to the Candace L. Straight Legacy Fund at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Please mail checks to the Rutgers University Foundation, PO Box 193, New Brunswick, NJ 08903-0193, or click HERE.
Updated at 4:41 PM with comment from Weinberg.