Greta Kiernan, former assemblywoman, dies at 89
Greta Kiernan, a 1970s Democratic single-term representative from Bergen County who later served as a highly effective and popular staffer for five governors, a congressman and several state legislators, and was a three-time Jeopardy champion, died January 3 was 89.
As a legislature, Kiernan sponsored legislation to provide funds for flood plains, expanding penalties for sex discrimination, and assisting homemakers who found themselves suddenly single after years of marriage. Kiernan and State Sen. Wynona Lipman (D-Newark) wrote legislation creating the New Jersey Commission on Sex Discrimination in the bylaws.
Kiernan was the last Democrat to defeat Gerald Cardinale, a Republican who served in the New Jersey legislature for more than 41 years.
Kiernan had served as a lobbyist for the New Jersey League of Women Voters and as an assistant to Senate President Matthew Feldman, a Teaneck Democrat, when she entered the 1977 race for a seat in the assembly. She also served as MP for five years as Harrington Park’s Democratic community leader.
Kiernan teamed up with two-year MP Harold Martin (D-Cresskill), for whom she had previously worked as a legislative adviser. The Bergen County Democratic organization endorsed Kiernan to Northvale Mayor William Lenskold and Westwood Democratic Club President Betty Grant.
She defeated Cardinale, the mayor of Demarest, by 2,939 votes and John Inganamort, a future GOP district chairman, by 2,985 votes.
The 39th had gone Democratic in the 1973 Watergate landslide, but the GOP reclaimed a seat in the assembly when Westwood Mayor John Markert won in 1975. State Senator Raymond Garramone (D-Haworth) gave up his seat after one term to challenge Gov. Brendan Byrne in the Democratic primary, and Markert was the favorite to turn over the seat. But Democrats held Bergen County’s 39th and former freeholder, Frank X. Herbert, beating Markert by 3,076 votes, 53%-47%.
As MP, Kiernan served on the Appropriations and State Government committees.
Cardinale and Markert ran together for the convention in 1979, beating Kiernan and Martin by over 6,000 votes.
After leaving the legislature, Kiernan became an assistant to her former colleague, Rep. Albert Burstein (D-Tenafly).
At Byrne’s recommendation, Kiernan joined the Governing Staff of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1980.
In 1985, Kiernan ran the unsuccessful 39th Precinct congregation campaign of 27-year-old Joseph Ferriero, a former Dumont councilman.
When Bergen County transitioned to a county executive form of government in 1986, Kiernan ran for the Freeholder, but lost in that year’s Republican contest. Although she lost by over 8,000 votes, she still ran first among the seven Democratic candidates in this year’s general election.
After the election, Republicans asked Kiernan to serve on a panel that wrote Bergen County’s code of ethics.
Kiernan attempted a second comeback in 1989 in the 38th District, but lost to incumbents Pat Schuber (R-Oradell) and Pat Roma (R-Palisades Park) by around 4,900 votes.
She served as Legislative Advisor to State Senator Paul Contillo (D-Paramus) until 1991, when she joined Gov. Jim Florio’s administration as Director of Legislative Affairs for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.
After winning a seat in Congress in 1998, Democrat Rush Holt (D-Hopewell) hired Kiernan as a special assistant in his district office. She later served as Rep. Linda Greenstein’s (D-Plainsboro) chief of staff.
She joined the administration of Gov. James E. McGreevey in the Office of Constituent Relations in 2002 and served three years under Gov. RICHard Codey and Jon Corzine.
After moving to Plainsboro, Kiernan served on the planning committee from 2002 to 2021 and was a trustee of the public library from 2009 to 2021.
Predeceased by her husband Richard, Kiernan is survived by their six children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The visitation will be held at the Boylan Funeral Home in New Brunswick on Monday from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., followed by a funeral service at Our Lady of Victories Roman Catholic Church in Harrington Park.