The Bergen County Republican Organization was one of the first counties in the state to award their organization line based on an open vote of the full county committee in 1976.
The convention process was the brainstorm of Cassius Daly, a former freeholder and Leonia mayor who fought to make the party more transparent after the Watergate scandal.
Bergen Democrats quickly followed suit and held their own convention for the first time that year.
The first GOP convention was a squeaker: in the race to take on freshman Rep. Andrew Maguire (D-Ridgewood), who flipped a House seat Republicans had held for 60 years, former Wyckoff mayor James Sheehan edged out James Quaremba by just three votes, 203 to 200. That’s the seat currently held by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff).
In the other Bergen County congressional district, former State Sen. Harold Hollenbeck (R-East Rutherford) also won by three votes, 70 to 67, against Lyndhurst school board member Ron Bogle. Former Haworth mayor John Johl received 40 votes and 27 went to Anne Armstrong, a political science professor at the City University of New York who was also known as the Baroness von Royk-Lewinski.
Hollenbeck went on to unseat Helstoski in the general election.
The state’s first open convention was held by Atlantic County Democrats in 1975 at the urging of Assemblyman Steven Perskie (D-Margate), who had helped oust Hap Farley’s political machine four years earlier.
That year, a new state law restored the right of county committees to endorse candidates in primary elections for the first time since Gov. Woodrow Wilson ended the practice as a way to curb the influences of party bosses.