Frank X. Herbert, a charismatic, progressive Democrat who quoted Shakespeare, loved the New York Giants, and served in the New Jersey State Senate until Gerald Cardinale unseated him in 1981, passed away today. He was 87.
Once the chairman of the English Department at Secaucus High School, Herbert was elected to councilman in Waldwick in 1971 and to the Bergen County Board of Freeholders in 1973. He lost his bid for re-election in 1976.
Herbert ran for the New Jersey State Senate in 1977, seeking the 39th district seat of Raymond Garramone, who had left after one term to challenge Brendan Byrne in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Even then, the 39th district in northeast Bergen County was strongly Republican, even though voters elected Democrats to the Legislature in the 1973 Watergate landslide. One Democratic Assemblyman, Harold Martin, was able to get re-elected, but Republican John Markert captured the other Assembly seat.
When Garramone left, Martin passed on the Senate seat and Democrats picked Herbert to run against Markert in what was widely expected to be a Republican pickup. When Byrne carried the district in his own re-election bid, Herbert scored an upset 53%-47% win against Market, taking the seat by 3,076 votes.
As a Senator, Herbert was a strong supporter of mass transportation issues and sponsored the bill that created New Jersey Transit.
Four years later, Market faced 47-year-old Gerald Cardinale, a former Demarest mayor who had lost an Assembly race in 1977 and then ousted Martin in a landslide two years later to win the Assembly seat. Tom Kean did well in the district, and Cardinale beat Herbert by 10,981 votes – 58%-42%.
By 1994, Herbert was living in Sparta when Democrats had a severe electoral mishap. Their candidate for Congress against Rep. Dean Gallo, Daniel Tauriello, failed to file enough signatures on his petition to get on the ballot, leaving John Kucek, a Holocaust revisionist and follower of Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Herbert came to the rescue and mounted a write-in campaign against Kucek. He won in a landslide, 5,971 to 2,493, an incredible 71% victory at a time when 11th district Democrats had practically nothing going for them organizationally.
Gallo quit the race in August, toward the end of his fight with prostate cancer – he died the day before the general election — and Herbert wound up becoming the first Democrat to run against Rodney Frelinghuysen. He lost by a 71%-28% margin in the heavily Republican district.
Herbert made one last bid for public office in 2007, a largely quixotic bid for State Senate in the 25th district when Democrats needed a candidate against Republican incumbent Tony Bucco. As expected, Bucco won 61%-39%.
In 2009, Gov. Jon Corzine nominated Herbert, then 78, to serve as the Morris County Superintendent of Elections. The plan was hatched by Democratic County Chairman Lewis Candura, who had been frustrated when Bucco and State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio refused to sign off on other Democratic choices after longtime elections chief RoseAnne Travaglia passed away. Because Herbert, now living in Rockaway Township, had been a State Senator, rules of senatorial courtesy did not apply to him – the ultimate loophole.
Corzine wound up withdrawing the nomination after he lost re-election, allowing the new governor to make the pick.
“Frank will be remembered for his dedication to shaping the state’s transportation policy and providing innovative solutions for transit issues throughout the state,” said Gov. Phil Murphy “Frank worked side-by-side with Governor Brendan Byrne and Transportation Commissioner Lou Gambaccini in providing New Jerseyans a strong transit system to travel to and from everyday commitments.”
Born in Jersey City, Herbert attended Fordham University before becoming a teacher. His wife, Eleanor, passed away in 2015. He is survived by his children, grandchildren, and great granddaughter.
A mass will be held on October 20 at St. Mary’s Church in Denville.