and elections chief
Joan Steinacker, whose complaint about the lack of streetlights in her Ramsey neighborhood gave rise to a career in public service, died Saturday. The former Bergen County freeholder and superintendent of elections was 84.
Mrs. Steinacker's civic involvement dated to the 1950s. Fearful about walking her dog on dark streets, the mother of three called Ramsey Borough Hall and followed up with a "nasty" letter to the Borough Council.
"It was sort of a tongue-in-cheek thing, and the council read it and got a big kick out it," she recalled in a 1977 interview. "As a result, I was invited to join the Republican club."
That led to her appointment to fill a vacancy on the Ramsey Council and, in 1976, her election as a freeholder.
Although Mrs. Steinacker joined two other women on the Freeholder Board, female politicians were a rarity at the time an issue she was eager to address.
"If a woman gets up in a council meeting and argues a point, she is viewed as a hysterical woman," Mrs. Steinacker once said. "But if a man argues passionately for something, he's considered a statesman. Some women just don't want to put up with that and so they don't get involved in politics."
During her five years on the Freeholder Board, Mrs. Steinacker was credited with streamlining the process of applying for and distributing state and federal grants.
She championed cultural initiatives, such as a performing arts center in the Meadowlands a project that never came to pass. A 1981 headline in The Record dubbed her "Bergen's unofficial Joan of Arts."
She stepped down from the Freeholder Board in her second term when Gov. Thomas H. Kean appointed her superintendent of elections for Bergen County.
She oversaw the computerization of voter registration and remained in the post for the eight years of Kean's governorship, despite an acerbic management style that sometimes placed her at odds with leaders of both parties.
Mrs. Steinacker later served as consumer affairs director under Bergen County Executive William "Pat" Schuber, a fellow Republican.
On Monday, Schuber remembered Mrs. Steinacker as |a "proactive" county official representative of the emergence |of women in North Jersey politics. He said she was a trailblazer alongside such former Bergen freeholders as Doris Mahalick and Barbara Chadwick.
Mrs. Steinacker moved to the Shore after her husband, William, died in 1995. The former officeholder stayed busy at the Greenbriar II active adult community in Brick Township. She served on the board of trustees, the bylaws committee and the architectural control committee, and delivered Meals on Wheels to her neighbors.
"She stood for what she believed in & and was always for the people," her son Mark said.
Mrs. Steinacker died of cancer. She is survived by her children, Steven Steinacker of Jupiter, Fla., Mark Steinacker |of Ridgewood and Mary E. Steinacker of Egg Harbor City; four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Visiting will be Friday from |3 to 7 p.m. at O'Brien Funeral Home, Brick Township.
Published in The Record on Jan. 15, 2013