NEW JERSEY — State Sen. Gerald Cardinale, the longest-serving Republican legislator in New Jersey history, has died at age 86.
Cardinale served the 39th District for 42 years. He died Saturday morning at Pascack Valley Hospital while battling a brief illness that was not related to COVID-19, according to the New Jersey Senate Republican Office.
Gov. Phil Murphy and his wife Tammy Murphy offered their condolences to Cardinale’s family and ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in his honor.
“Tammy and I are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Sen. Gerry Cardinale, a true public servant. Sen. Cardinale’s 54-year record of public service to the state of New Jersey speaks to the level of trust his constituents placed in him,” Murphy said in a statement. “Our condolences go out to his family, friends, and colleagues in the Legislature. All flags will be lowered to half-staff on Monday when the Senate returns to session.”
Longtime associate and state Assemblyman Robert Auth remembered Cardinale as a friend and mentor who worked hard for his constituents.
“Gerry was one of the best politicians I’ve ever seen. There was never a hand he did not want to shake, a door he did not want to knock on, or a train station where he did not want to greet commuters with a smile,” Auth said in a statement. “He was my mentor and close friend. It will be a long time before we see another public servant like Gerry Cardinale who had guts, commitment and passion for his constituents. He worked hard every day to earn the trust of the residents of the 39th district and maintain his connection to the people of New Jersey.”
Cardinale served as mayor of Demarest from 1975 to 1979, before his career in the state senate. He also served one term in the New Jersey Assembly from 1980 – 1981, according to the New Jersey Senate Republican Office.
Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, also praised Cardinale's love of serving the public.
“This is a terribly sad loss for Senator Cardinale’s family, the people he served in the 39th Legislative District with devotion, and all of us in the Legislature who knew him and respected his commitment to public service," Sweeney said. "He was a distinctive man who worked tirelessly and with sincere conviction to improve the lives of others. Gerry Cardinale will be missed."
He was also known as "the dean of the Bergen County legislators," according to State Sen. Paul Sarlo.
"When Bergen County Senators would meet for dinner to negotiate appointments, Gerry... always delighted in exercising the prerogative of picking the restaurant and ordering the wine," Sarlo said in a statement. "The negotiations weren’t always good, but the food and wine always were. Rest in peace Gerry.”
Cardinale is survived by his wife, Carole Cardinale, and five children.