A dentist by trade, Cardinale had battled health issues over the past year while seeking an unprecedented 13th term to the Legislature.
He died at Hackensack Merdian Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood (not COVID-related), a week shy of his 87th birthday.
“It is with deep sadness that I learned this morning of the passing of my friend and longtime colleague Senator Gerald Cardinale,” wrote state Rep. Holly Schepisi.
The Brooklyn-born Demarest native “was a well-respected and revered senator for nearly forty years, fighting for our community and working to make New Jersey a better place to live, work, and retire,” Schepisi said. “I was fortunate to work with him for nearly a decade and will miss his friendship, principled leadership in Trenton.
“We have lost an icon in our state.”
Nearly 55 years in politics began for Cardinale in 1967, when he was elected to the Demarest Board of Education.
He then led a GOP sweep of borough government, unseating a Democrat mayor in the midst of Watergate.
From there, Cardinale took his first stab at a 39th District state Assembly seat in 1977.
He lost, but then staged a rematch two years later that dramatically boosted his political profile – he won in a virtual landslide – and set the stage for what became a distinguished career untainted by scandal.
After one term, Cardinale sought – and won – a state Senate seat.
Since then, his elections have mostly been mismatches, with Cardinale getting at least 60% of the vote nearly every time.
Oakland Mayor Linda Schwager gave him a scare in Cardinale’s recent run. The second longest-serving state legislator in history still won, however.
His elective pursuits weren’t all victories. Cardinale finished fifth in the 1989 governor’s race, which eventually went to Jim Florio. He also lost a Republican primary in 2002 for the U.S. congressional seat eventually won by Scott Garrett.
Cardinale, who was an influential member of the state Senate Judiciary Committee, got his Bachelor of Science degree (majoring in Chemistry) from St. John’s University in 1955 and his D.D.S. from the NYU college of Dentistry two years later.
He was the Senate’s deputy major leader from 1994 to 2001, the majority whip 1992 to 1993, the assistant minority leader from 1987 to 1989 and minority whip from 1985 to 1986.
Cardinale also was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1984, 1988 and 1992 and served as a delegate to the New Jersey Republican State Platform Committee in 1983.
He is survived by his wife, former Demarest Councilwoman Carole Cardinale, five children (Marisa, Christine, Kara, Gary, Nicole) and several grandchildren.
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