Home>Local>Bergen>Since 1973, little turnover in solidly Democratic 37th district

State Sen. Matthew Feldman (D-Teaneck) in 1966. Ace Alagna collection courtesy of the Monsignor William Noé Field Archives & Special Collections Center, Seton Hall University Libraries, South Orange.

Since 1973, little turnover in solidly Democratic 37th district

Just 8 legislators have represented District 37 since it was created 48 years ago

By David Wildstein, January 24 2021 9:42 pm

The 37th legislative district has had little turnover since New Jersey shifted to a 40-district map in 1973 and is one of seven districts in the state that has never sent a Republican to Trenton.

In more than 47 years, just eight individuals have won races for the legislature in a district that has been redrawn four times but has always included Teaneck and Englewood.

Loretta Weinberg’s retirement after more than 28 years in the legislature will give the 37th district their first new senator since 2005 and essentially just their fifth since Lyndon B. Johnson was president.

Weinberg won a 2005 special election when Byron Baer stepped down for health reasons.  Baer, a 1960s Freedom Rider, was first elected to the Assembly in 1971 when a new legislative map created an eastern Bergen County district anchored by Teaneck, Englewood and Fort Lee.  Baer went to the Senate in 1993 following the retirement of Matthew Feldman, a onetime Teaneck mayor who served as Senate President.

Feldman won the seat in 1973, ousting two-term incumbent Joseph Woodcock, a Republican from Cliffside Park, by a 59%-41% margin.  Six years earlier, Woodcock was among the Republicans that unseated Feldman from a Senate seat at a time when Bergen senators ran in countywide elections.

The delegation remained the same until Albert Burstein, a former Assembly Majority Leader from Tenafly who first won with Baer in 1971.

Burstein’s replacement was Bennett Mazur, a Fort Lee Democrat who had served ten years on the Bergen County Board of Freeholders.  Mazur suffered a stroke on Election Day 1991 and resigned six weeks after beginning his sixth term in the legislature.

The winner of a special election convention to replace Mazur was Loretta Weinberg, then a Teaneck councilwoman who had served as an aide to Mazur.

The 37th district was solidly Democratic, and Republicans were rarely competitive, even against strong challengers like former Bergenfield Councilman Arthur V. Gallagher.

In 1991, when districts more Democratic than the 37th were won by Republicans in the aftermath of Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax hike, Feldman fended off a challenge from Republican Todd Caliguire.  He beat Caliguire, a former assistant counsel to Gov. Tom Kean, by a 54%-46% margin.

Following Feldman’s retirement in 1993, Baer moved up to the Senate and Hackensack Police Chief Charles “Ken” Zisa replaced him in the Assembly.

Zisa left the Assembly in 2001 to run for Bergen County Sheriff.  His replacement was Gordon Johnson, the acting sheriff, and a retired Englewood police officer.

The Assembly seat Weinberg vacated in 2005 went to Valerie Vainieri Huttle, a Bergen County freeholder.

When the 37th was originally drawn by a Republican-controlled legislature with a Republican governor, the district was viewed as part of a plan by Bergen County GOP Chairman Anthony Statile to push Woodcock, a political rival, out of the Senate.

The Watergate scandal had not yet altered the political landscape and Republicans expected to hold on to seats in the 36th, 38th, 39th and 40th districts that were drawn to their benefit.  By Election Day, with President Richard Nixon’s approvals tanking, all but the 40th elected Democratic state senators.

In addition to Teaneck and Englewood, the initial 37th included Bergenfield, Cliffside Park, Edgewater, Englewood Cliffs, Fort Lee, Leonia, and Tenafly.  Reapportionment in 1981 added Fairview to the 37th and retained the other nine municipalities.

After new districts were drawn for the 1991 elections, Cliffside Park was moved to the 38th, Englewood Cliffs and Tenafly to the 39th, and Edgewater and Fairview to the Hudson County-based 32nd.  Instead, District 37 gained Bogota, Hackensack, Maywood, and Ridgefield Park.

Redistricting in 2001 transported Fort Lee to the 38th – a move that helped Democrats oust a Republican state senator and assemblyman – and returned Englewood Cliffs and Tenafly.  Additionally, Palisades Park and Rochelle Park were added to the 37th,

Ten years ago, Fort Lee returned to the 37th.  The district also picked up Alpine, Cresskill, Northvale, and Rockleigh.  Bergenfield, Maywood, and Rochelle Park were exported to the 38th, and Ridgefield Park went to the 36th.

The 2020 U.S. Census has not yet been certified.  Population estimates from 2019 show the 37th to be a correctly-sized legislative district with no noticeable increases or decreases in population.

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