James A. Harkness, a popular and widely respected leader in New Jersey politics for four decades, passed away this morning after a long illness. He was 64.
Harkness served as chief counsel to Gov. Donald DiFrancesco from 2001 to 2002. He served as deputy executive director and chief counsel of the Senate Majority Office when DiFrancesco was Senate President, and later as executive director of the Senate Minority Office under Tom Kean, Jr.
He possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of Senate rules.
Harkness also ran for public office, winning a seat on the Delaware Township Board of Education in 2005. He defeated Cynthia Sulewski by 121 votes, 481 to 360.
In his final month in office, DiFrancesco appointed Harkness to the New Jersey Local Finance Board. He later served on the Hunterdon County Board of Taxation.
In between government stints, Harkness was a partner at Riker Danzig, a major New Jersey law firm.
He served on Gov.-elect Chris Christie’s Labor and Workforce Development transition team.
Harkness was a 1976 graduate of Rutgers University and received his law degree from the University of Detroit in 1979.
Kean said that Harkness “will always be remembered for his intellect and humor, for his love of his wife and children, and for his dedication to public service.”
“You could always count on Jim to brighten your day with a good joke and to offer sage advice, often at the same time. Jim was the best of the best. Our Senate Republican family is devastated by his loss today,” Kean said.
Senate President Steve Sweeney called Harkness “an extremely talented, well-respected public servant who will be missed by everyone.”
Visitation will be held on Thursday from 4-8 PM at the Wright and Ford Funeral Home in Flemington.
Life Celebration services officiated by Rev. Lee Ann Zandstra will take place on Friday at 11AM in the Riverside Ballroom of the Inn at Lambertville Station. Attendees are asked to begin to arrive no earlier than 10:30 AM and there is ample parking. The service will be followed by a luncheon.
Memorial contributions, in lieu of flowers, may be made to Cooper University Health Care, c/o The Cooper Foundation, Sheridan Pavilion, 3 Cooper Plaza, Suite 500, Camden, NJ 08103 or to the Hunterdon Medical Center Foundation or to the Hunterdon Healthcare Foundation, 9100 Wescott Drive, Suite 202, Flemington, New Jersey 08822.