Legislative giant for four decades dies at 77

Byron Baer, a hardworking and effective legislator who wrote the state's open public meeting law, died early today. He was 77 and had been sick for the last several years.

A Bergen County Democrat, Baer first went to Trenton in after the 1965 election as an aide to Arnold Brown, the first African American to represent Bergen County in the Legislature. Brown lost his bd for re-election in 1967, and Baer won the seat back in a competitive 1971 campaign. He spent 22 years in the Assembly and moved up to the Senate in 1993 when Matthew Feldman retired.

He resigned from the Senate in the summer of 2005, due to health reasons, and has spent the last year in an assisted living center in Englewood, his hometown.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg served in the Assembly with Baer from 1992 to 1994, and then followed him to the Senate in 2005. They ran on a ticket together in the 37th district four times.

"Byron Baer was a proud legislator known for his devotion to open and transparent government. He paid attention to the real details of the laws he crafted and has left a huge legacy for future generations. The Toxic Catastrophe Act, the Sunshine Law, and his civil rights activism are just a few of those," said Weinberg.

"His family, the residents of Englewood. and indeed the families of our district and the State can be proud of his more than 30 years service to our state. I worked with him on many issues during those years, and he was a great teacher. I am personally privileged to have followed him into the Senate, and I learned much from him when we were partners in the Assembly," Weinberg told PoliticsNJ.com. "His clear and steady vision and his voice will be sorely missed in our State. Our condolences go out to his devoted wife, Linda, and to his children and grandchildren."

Baer spent time in the Mississippi State Penetentiary in 1965 for his involvemen as a Freedom Rider, a group that wrote interstate buses into southern states to protest racial discrimination. He became a friend and advisor to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

"I was sad to learn of Byron Baer's passing. Byron was a strong force for social justice and change here in New Jersey and around the country. He devoted his life to making this a better world to live in as he moved from being a freedom rider to elder statesman," said former Assemblyman Arnold Brown, the first African American to represent Bergen Countyt in the Legislature. "Byron was my legislative assistant in the late 1960s and he went on to become an outstanding assemblyman and senator. We will miss his energy and dedication."

Baer won what is now the 37th district seat in 1971, running with Albert Burstein. Baer was the top vote-getter, winning by a 2,659 vote margin over the top Republican, Charles (Jim) O'Dowd, who went on to serve many years as Mayor of Bergenfield and as a Bergen County Freeholder.

Baer was predeceased by his parents Walter and Hortense Baer. He is survived by his wife Linda, his children David Baer and Laura Baer Levine, his stepchildren Roger Pollitt and Lara Pollitt Rodriguez, a brother Donald Baer, three grandchildren Zachary and Nicholas Levine and Danielle Baer.

Funeral arrangements are not yet complete.

Legislative giant for four decades dies at 77