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State Sen. Wynona Lipman (D-Newark) was the first African American woman to serve in the New Jersey State Senate. (PHOTO COURTESY OF WYNONA'S HOUSE)

Trailblazer: Senator Wynona Lipman

By David Wildstein, January 21 2019 12:25 am

Wynona M. Lipman (1923-1999) was the first African American woman to serve in the New Jersey State Senate.  She served as a Senator from 1972 until her death in 1999.

Born in Georgia, she was a Fulbright scholar studying at the Sorbonne in Paris when she met her future husband, Matthew Lipman.  She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University and moved to Montclair when Matt Lipman took a job as a professor at Montclair State.

Lipman became involved in local politics, eventually becoming the Montclair Democratic Municipal Chair.  She was elected Essex County Freeholder in 1968 and became freeholder director in 1971.

She gave up her freeholder seat after one term to run for the State Senate.  In 1971, Essex had five Senate seats, all elected countywide.  Republicans were defending the Senate seats they had swept four years earlier.

Lipman was the top vote-getter in the Democratic primary, running on a ticket with Assemblyman Frank Dodd, Irvington councilman Henry Smolen, and South Orange attorneys Ralph DeRose and Martin Greenberg. They defeated an insurgent slate led by legendary Newark East Ward councilman Louis Turco, labor leader Joel Jacobson and Irvington councilman Michael Blasi; Lipman beat Turco by a 2-1 margin.

Democrats won three of the five Essex Senate seats – incumbents Michael Giuliano (R-Bloomfield) and James Wallwork (R-Short Hills) were re-elected.  DeRose and Dodd won, and Lipman ousted State Sen. Milton Waldor (R-West Orange) by 908 votes for the fifth seat.

When New Jersey adopted a new map that included 40 single-member Senate districts for the 1973 election, Lipman moved to Newark to seek the 29th district seat.  She won with 84% of the vote.

That turned out to be the lowest percentage of her career in that overwhelmingly Democratic district.  She was re-elected in 1977, 1981, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1993 and 1997.

She spent several years as chair of the Senate Education Committee.

When House Judiciary Committee chairman Peter Rodino (D-Newark) retired in 1988, Lipman was briefly mentioned as a candidate for Congress.

She died of cancer in 1999, at age 67.

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