Fran Rein, one of New Jersey’s top Democratic political operatives in the 1970s and 1980s, died this morning. She was 75.
In 1980, Rein became Ted Kennedy’s New Jersey State Director during his bid to wrestle the Democratic presidential nomination from President Jimmy Carter.
Kennedy defeated Carter by 102,722 votes, a 56%-38% margin, in the June 3 New Jersey primary. That gave Kennedy 68 delegates from New Jersey, with 45 for Carter.
During a Kennedy campaign swing through New Jersey in early 1980, three Communist Workers Party members were arrested for throwing eggs at Kennedy. Rein got a towel and cleaned up the mess – perhaps a metaphor for her career as a political fixer.
Rein began her political career in Essex County politics in the early 1970s. She was living in Bloomfield at the time.
She ran for delegate to the 1976 Democratic National Convention on an uncommitted slate of candidates looking to derail Carter’s candidacy and nominate Hubert Humphrey or Jerry Brown for president.
The uncommitted slate was headed by U.S. Senator Harrison Williams, New Jersey AFL-CIO President Charles Marciante, Jersey City Mayor Paul Jordan and Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Nicholas Venezia, among others.
Rein ran for one of two delegate slots in the 27th legislative district, which included Bloomfield, Montclair, Nutley and Belleville.
She and her running mate, William Brach – the founder of the Brach Eichler law firm – won. Rein defeated Carter delegate candidate Stephen Downey by 170 votes. He outpolled Montclair Democratic activist Robert Noonan, who was running on Morris Udall’s ticket, by 574 votes, and former Assemblyman Robert Ruane (D-Bloomfield), a delegate candidate allied with Henry Jackson, by 2,320.
In 1978, Rein played a key role in the election of 26-year-old Peter Shapiro as the first Essex County Executive.
After the Kennedy race, Senate President Joseph Merlino (D-Trenton) hired Rein to manage his campaign for the 1981 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
In a crowded field of thirteen candidates seeking to succeed the term-limited Brendan Byrne, Merlino finished fourth with 11% of the vote. Rep. Jim Florio (D-Runnemede) won the primary by a 26%-16% margin over Rep. Bob Roe (D-Wayne), with Newark Mayor Kenneth Gibson finishing third with 15%.
Rein later ran her own political consulting firm, Rein Myers Communications, working on Frank Lautenberg’s first race for the U.S. Senate in 1982. She handled the radio buys for the 1983 Democratic legislative races, when Democrats picked up two Senate seats and one Assembly seat in Gov. Tom Kean’s mid-term election. She worked on U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley’s 1984 re-election campaign.
When Shapiro ran for governor in 1985, Rein went in a different direction and was the consultant for former State Sen. Stephen Wiley (D-Morris Township). Shapiro won the primary by a 31%-27% margin over Senate Majority Leader John Russo (D-Toms River), with Wiley finishing fourth in a field six candidates with 8.5% of the vote.
In 1986, she was the consultant for Middlesex County Freeholder David Crabiel’s unsuccessful bid for Congress in New Jersey’s 12th district. A former Mayor of Milltown and the brother of former Senate Minority Leader and New Jersey Secretary of State Edward “Concrete Eddie” Crabiel. Crabiel lost to four-term Rep. Jim Courter (R-Allamuchy) by a 63%-37% margin.
Rein was involved in the 1987 legislative campaigns. Among her clients was former Assemblyman Bill Flynn (D-Old Bridge), who lost his comeback bid that year to 27-year-old Joseph Kyrillos (R-Middletown).
She eventually joined Message & Media, the firm run by Brad Lawrence and Steve DeMicco.
Rein is survived by her daughter, Laurie, and her two grandchildren, Samantha and David.
Funeral services will be held at 10 AM Wednesday at Star of David Memorial Chapel of South Brunswick.
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