Feldman To Leave Senate
Making Way For Young Hopefuls
By DAVID BLOMQUIST, Trenton Bureau Chief
(From: The Record, February 18, 1993)
TRENTON - Matthew Feldman, the respected elder statesman of Bergen County Democratic Politics, announced Wednesday that he will retire from the Senate when his term runs out in January.
"For the Democratic Party to remain vital, it must continually redefine and renew itself," Feldman, 73, wrote in a letter sent to members of the Democratic County Committee. "To do that, it must permit younger people to move up into positions of responsibility."
As a civic and religious leader, a councilman and mayor of Teaneck, and, finally, the Senator from central Bergen's 37th District, Feldman has been a pivotal force in shaping state policy on education, environment, and civil rights for more than three decades.
His decision to step aside is expected to spark a scramble in both Parties that could significantly change the face of Bergen politics, as a generation of leaders forged in the 1960s gives way to a younger, more ethnically diverse group eager to move tip the ladder.
A feisty former boxer who served in the Army Air Force during World War II, Feldman has been in poor health in recent years. Many Democrats were surprised when he chose to seek a seventh term in 1991, and expected him to bow out before all 120 seats in the legislature come up for election this fall.
In an interview Wednesday, Feldman left little doubt that his retirement comes with mixed feelings. But he said his wife, Muriel, and his three children convinced him that it was time to leave.
"We've been agonizing over this for months," said Feldman. "'The family has insisted that I've given public service over 30 years. It's time to conclude that public service."
He said the inauguration last month of President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore underscored the importance of passing the baton to a new generation of Democrats.
"I took pride in their success," Feldman said, "confirmed in my belief that it was not only time for a political change, but for a generational change."
Feldman was first elected to the Senate in 1965 as part of a group of Democrats who rode the coattails of Gov. Richard J. Hughes to the party's largest legislative victories in Bergen County since World War II. Defeated for reelection in 1967, he served as the county's Democratic leader for four years before winning another Senate term in 1973. He has been continuously reelected to the upper house ever since.
As word of Feldman's retirement spread throughout Bergen political circles Wednesday, two candidates started lining up to replace him: Assemblyman Byron M. Baer, D-Englewood, who has served with Feldman in the legislature for 20 years, and Englewood Mayor Donald Aronson.
Aronson said he is testing the waters for a possible campaign. "It's an honor to be considered to be able to fill the shoes of Matty Feldman," he said. "I just don't know yet. I'm asking questions of friends in the area."
Baer said he had been waiting for Feldman to make a decision, and expects to announce his candidacy for Senate sometime next week. he said he wouldn't shy away from a primary battle with Aronson, but said he's willing to abide by the endorsement of the county Democratic committee -- an endorsement Baer said he expect to win.
But with Feldman's proven ability as a fund-raiser and vote-getter out of the picture, county Republicans think they may have a strong chance of capturing the district. Bergen Republican Chairman John Schepisi said he expects several candidates to materialize for the open seat.
"Even though District 37 has been predominantly a Democratic stronghold, I think the strength was because of Matty Feldman at the top of the ticket," Schepisi said. "We have a darned good shot at Republicans taking over."
One Republican mentioned as a possible contender is Freeholder Todd Caliguire, who gave Feldman an unusually close race two years ago amid the backlash against Governor Florio's record tax hike.
"I'm thinking about it, but I haven't decided yet," Caliguire said on Wednesday.
Baer's decision to pursue the Senate seat will leave an opening on the Democratic ticket for the Assembly. For the first time in two decades, insiders say, the candidate is likely to be someone other than a liberal Jewish Democrat.
The 37th District has the largest black population of any legislative district in Bergen County, and black Democrats have been seeking a slot on the ticket for some time. Potential black contenders include Hackensack's deputy mayor, Sandra A. Robinson, who was an unsuccessful freeholder candidate in 1991.
But the 37th District also contains a substantial Italian-American population that may lay claim to Baer's seat. Insiders named Hackensack Democratic Chairman Ken Zisa as one possible challenger.
Naming of the Feldman Nature Preserve (Suburbanite article, dated 1990)
Citizen's for Feldman (campaign brochure, dated 1973)