Some South Jersey politicos may remember Harry Haskell, who represented Delaware in the U.S. House of Representatives more than 60 years ago. Haskell is celebrating his 98th birthday today.
Haskell has some ties to New Jersey.
Haskell was a young staffer in Dwight Eisenhower’s White House – working for Nelson Rockefeller – and World War II veteran when he took on freshman Rep. Harris McDowell in 1956 and won 52%-48% on the coattails of Eisenhower, who carried Delaware by 10 ½ points against Adlai Stevenson.
McDowell sought a rematch in 1958 – a Democratic year nationally – and ousted Haskell by just 698 votes for Delaware’s lone congressional seat.
Haskell mounted a political comeback in 1968, winning election as the mayor of Wilmington in the wake of the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. He defeated two-term Democrat John Babiarz by a 58%-42% margin, even as Hubert Humphrey was carrying the city by a 2-1 margin over Richard Nixon.
To put Haskell’s tenure into some context: two years after he became mayor, 28-year-old attorney Joe Biden defeated Republican Lawrence Messick, 55%-43%, for a district seat on the New Castle County Council – Delaware’s equivalent of a Board of Chosen Freeholders.
In 1972, Haskell been expected to run for U.S. Senate. Nixon convinced incumbent J. Caleb Boggs to seek a third term to avoid a divisive primary between Haskell and Rep. Pete du Pont. Boggs lost the general to Biden by 3,162 votes statewide.
Instead, Haskell ran for a second term as mayor and lost 54%-46% to Democrat Thomas Maloney. After the election, Biden said he would have rather run against Haskell.
Haskell had close ties to Jack Ewing, a venerable Somerset County Republican who had spent more than 30 years as a freeholder, assemblyman and state senator. Ewing had served as president of the Abercrombie and Fitch before retiring to serve as a full-time legislator. He was later succeeded by Haskell.
Haskell is the most senior living member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He and Rep. Merwin Coad (D-Iowa) entered Congress on January 3, 1957. He is one of four living former congressmen to have served during the Eisenhower administration, although four others entered the House seventeen days before John F. Kennedy took office.
For extreme political junkies: Joe Biden’s first opponent was a New Jerseyan. Messick grew up in East Greenwich and his brother, J. Robert Messick, served as a Republican on the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders from 1954 to 1963. Lawrence Messick and Joe Biden became friends after the 1970 race, and Messick visited the former vice president at the White House in 2016, three months before he died at age 94.