Maureen Ogden, seven-term assemblywoman and environmental champion, dies at 93

Maureen Ogden, a staunch conservationist and supporter of the arts who served in the New Jersey State Assembly for 14 years, has died. she was 93.

The Millburn Republican represented parts of Essex and Union counties in the legislature from 1982 to 1996. She was the first woman to serve as mayor of Millburn.

“She was a real thoroughbred who has the best interests of New Jersey at heart, particularly on environmental matters,” said former Rep. Leonard Lance (R Clinton Township).

As a lawmaker, Ogden authored several Green Acres bond issues aimed at preserving open space, and major legislation to protect freshwater wetlands. She also wrote the law that gave adoptees the chance to obtain their original birth certificates.

In 1971, Ogden was a board member of the Citizen’s League for Environmental Action Now., and in 1974 became chair of the Millburn Environmental Commission.

Ogden made her first bid for public office in 1975 as a candidate for the Millburn Township Committee in an era when Millburn was a Republican stronghold.

Two Republican incumbents, Mayor C. Thomas Thomas and Vice Mayor William Ohaus, declined to seek re-election and Ogden became a candidate for the open seat.

In a contested GOP primary, Ogden was the top vote-getter, outpolling her running mate, Edward Handler, by about 350 votes. Handler edged out off-the-line candidate Frank Long, who would later become mayor, by about a dozen votes.

In the general election, Ogden defeated Democrat John Fitzgerald by a 2-1 margin, with Handler receiving roughly 1,300 votes less than Ogden but approximately 1,300 vote more than Fitzgerald. Three independent candidates finished behind; one William Ivey, polled more than 1,500 votes.

Ogden faced a Republican primary in her bid for re-election in 1978. Handler opted out of a second term and she ran with Earl Cryer. She received about 2,100 votes, about 900 more than Cryer, who snagged the second seat by around 250 votes against Long. Long’s running mate, E. Garfield Gifford, ran far behind.

She easily outdistanced Democrats Chuck James and Ina Labiner in November.

In January 1979, Ogden became mayor, replacing Alexander Lyon.

Legislative Redistricting

Redistricting in 1981 eliminated the mostly West Essex 25th district that went from Millburn to Wayne and instead placed several of the West Essex municipalities in the 22nd district that now went from Clark to Essex Fells.

The 22nd had been represented by three Republicans – State Sen. Donald DiFrancesco (R-Scotch Plains) and Assemblymen William Maguire (R-Clark) and Bob Franks (R-New Providence). Because they now comprised a large chunk of the new district, Essex Republicans demanded one of the Assembly seats.

While Maguire, a three-term legislator and former Union County freeholder, had more seniority, the one-term Franks had an advantage because he had managed Essex GOP Chairman John Renna’s campaign 1977 campaign. Maguire was dumped for Essex to get the seat.

Essex picked Ogden over other contenders, including future Assemblyman Monroe Jay Lustbader (R-Short Hills), who instead won a freeholder seat, Maplewood businessman Norman Lapidus (who would later win a seat on the Bedminster Township Committee), Essex GOP fundraiser Anthony J Crincoli (who wound up challenging DiFrancesco in the Senate primary), and Delores Kirk, an aide to State Sen. John Ewing (R-Peapack).

State Sen. Donald DiFrancesco, left, with Assemblywoman Maureen Ogden and Assemblyman Bob Franks. (Photo: David Wildstein Collection).

In the Republican primary, Ogden and Franks defeated Mountainside Councilman Bruce Geiger by over 4,1000 votes. They won the general election by more than 20,000 votes against Richard Leonard, then the Democratic mayor of Roseland, and Michael Alper.

Ogden and Franks easily won re-election bids in 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1989. She served as Assistant Minority Whip of the Assembly from 1982 to 1985.

After Republicans won control of the State Assembly in 1985, Speaker Chuck Hardwick named her as chair of the Assembly Conservation, Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She later chaired the Assembly Arts, Tourism and Cultural Affairs Committee and the Assembly Environment Committee.

Redistricting gave Ogden an entirely new district in 1991 that stretched from Roselle Park to Cedar Grove. Instead of running with DiFrancesco and Franks, she was now in a district represented by State Sen. C. Louis Bassano (R-Union) and Neil Cohen (R-Union).

Republicans put Lustbader, by then a four-term freeholder, on the Assembly ticket with Ogden. They defeated Cohen by over 13,000 votes, with Verona Councilman Frank Covello running about 5,000 votes behind Cohen.

She was re-elected in 1993 by a margin of more than 19,000 votes.

Following Republican Christine Todd Whitman’s election as governor in 1993, Ogden expressed interest in joining the cabinet as Commissioner of Environmental Protection, but the post went to another environmental activist in the legislature, Assemblyman Robert Shinn (R-Hainesport).

In 1995, at age 67, Ogden decided to retire from the legislature.

But Ogden was not able to transfer the seat to her handpicked successor, Cynthia Fuller. Fuller had been Ogden’s chief of staff and was a Millburn Township Committeewoman. Instead, the Republican nomination went to 31-year-old Cedar Grove Mayor Kevin O’Toole.

Ogden served as the first chair of the Garden State Preservation trust, as a member of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, and as a trustee of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. She chaired the Conservation Committee of the New Jersey Garden Clubs and served on the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

The 228-acre former Drakestown Preserve in Long Valley was renamed in Ogden’s honor.

Born in Vancouver, Canada, Ogden was a graduate of Smith College and received a master’s degree from Columbia University. She worked as a research assistant at the Ford Foundation.

Ogden’s husband, Bob, died in 2010. She is survived by her three sons, including former Summit Councilman Henry Ogden, and her grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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