No legislative district in the state has gone longer without electing a Democrat than the 40th, which includes parts of Bergen, Passaic, Morris and Essex counties.
It’s been 54 years since a Democrat won an Assembly seat there, which makes the news that former Bergen County Freeholder Julie O’Brien is ending a ten-year retirement to become the Democratic candidate is unlikely to matter that much.
The 40th now has 8,034 more Republicans than Democrats, down from a +11,914 registration edge when the district was redrawn following the 2010 census.
The district gave Donald Trump a 54%-46% win in 2016, and went for Kim Guadagno over Phil Murphy by a 52%-48% margin two years ago. State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa) won the 40th by 12 points, 56%-44% in 2017. In 2018, Democratic congressional candidates Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) combined to win 54% of the vote in the municipalities that comprise the legislative district.
The 40th started out as Bergen County Assembly district 13E, drawn for the 1967 elections in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s One Man, One Vote decision. Before that, Bergen County elected legislators in countywide at-large races.
The original 13-E included six towns that remain in the current 40th: Allendale, Franklin Lakes, Ho-H-Kus, Midland Park, Ridgewood, Waldwick and Wyckoff. Also in 13E: Fair Lawn, Glen Rock, Mahwah, Oakland, Saddle River, Upper Saddle River, Washington Township, Woodcliff Lake and Waldwick.
In 1967, 13-E had one incumbent, freshman Assemblyman Robert Hamer (D-Ho-Ho-Kus). The Republicans nominated former Assemblyman Richard Vander Plaat (R-Fair Lawn) and Franklin Lakes Mayor Richard DeKorte. They beat Hamer and Ridgewood Democratic Club President John Coan by a margin of more than 2-1.
District 13-E was redrawn in 1969 and again 1971 when Wyckoff Mayor John Spizziri and Fair Lawn Councilman Gus Rys easily won two open Assembly seats.
In 1973, it became the 40th, with two-term State Sen. Garrett Hagedorn (R-Midland Park) on the ticket.
Spizziri nearly lost the Republican nomination that year to conservative James Quaremba, who had already lost GOP primaries for U.S. Senate in 1970 and State Senate in 1971. Spizziri won by just 333 votes. Rys ran 11 votes ahead of his running mate.
The 1973 general election came two weeks after President Richard Nixon fired Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre, and Democrats nearly pulled off an upset.
Paul Konstadt, a 23-year-old Ramapo College student who worked as a delivery truck driver for The (Bergen) Record, came within 363 votes of unseating Spizziri. Early returns showed Konstadt winning on election night.
Six months later, New Jersey Secretary of State J. Edward “Concrete Eddie” Crabiel issued a free New Jersey Transit rail pass to legislators, including Konstadt. He returned his pass.
Konstadt never ran for office again. Instead, he moved to Massachusetts and became a well-known, on-air reporter for National Public Radio and for the Lowell Sun. He passed away in July 2019 after a long battle with cancer.
Spizziri eventually lost his seat in the 1977 Republican primary.
He ran on an organization line with gubernatorial candidate Raymond Bateman. Rys declined to seek re-election to a fourth term and Spizziri ran with Elmwood Park Mayor Richard Mola.
Bateman’s primary opponent, Tom Kean, formed his own line and carried the towns in the 40th. That propelled Kean’s running mates, Oakland Councilman Cary Edwards and Ridgewood attorney Walter Kern, to a victory in the GOP primary.
Edwards was the top vote-getter with 7,656 votes. Kern (6,952) beat Spizziri (6,670) by 282 votes. Mola finished fourth with 5,617 votes.
In early 1982, Edwards resigned to become Chief Counsel to Gov. Kean. He was replaced by former Fair Lawn Mayor Nicholas Felice.
Felice remained in the Assembly until Fair Lawn was redistricted into the 38th district in 2001. He lost his seat to Democrat Matthew Ahearn, a former Fair Lawn deputy mayor, by 667 votes.
Felice’s 40th district Assembly seat was won by State Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove), who returned to the lower house after a brief tenure in the Senate after mapmakers carved up his Essex-Union district and put Cedar Grove into the 40th.