In talking to politicians mourning the July 3 death of Hudson County Clerk Janet Haynes, you will hear only half of her story. People will sing the praises of a powerful woman without really giving a sense of what she was like.
"When she was in a room, you knew about it," said Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, in attempting to give shape to this historic force. "She always wore a big hat and she always had a big voice. She had pizzazz."
DeGise called her one of the elder statespeople of Hudson County, a person to whom many in the county looked up.
"She was a huge part of the system and will be very much missed," he said.
Haynes rose through the ranks of Hudson County to repeatedly set the mark as the highest-ranking African-American.
She could be tough, often demanding, making workers under her give her what she wanted when she wanted it. Some workers even felt they rarely received the appreciation from her that they deserved. And yet, most loved her despite these flaws.
"I went to her office and her staff was extremely upset," DeGise said, during a telephone interview this week. "They really cared for her."
One worker recalled conversations in the women’s room, in which Haynes struggled to help the worker through a personal crisis.
Most workers clearly saw her as a forceful and dynamic leader, and they well-respected her for her remarkable organizational skills. She could streamline systems to make them more efficient, and this often required her to be very forceful. But she was also known for her willingness to volunteer, especially in the Coalition of 100 Black Women, a national organization of female leaders committed to furthering equity and empowerment for women of color in society-at-large.
State Senator Bernard Kenny (D-33 rd Dist.) said he had known Haynes for about 15 years.
"I met her in the 1980s," he said. "She served an important role in the party and in the county as a constitutional officer. She always conducted herself with a lot of class. She was an excellent speaker and very articulate."
An accomplished person
Haynes began her professional career in the private sector during the 1950s as a tax accounting supervisor for Metropolitan Life Insurance in Manhattan, from which she resigned in 1966 to have a son.
Three years later, when she returned to the workforce, she entered the public sector as deputy director of fiscal management for the City of Jersey City’s Model Cities Program. After serving two years in this position, she assumed the directorship of the entire seven and a half million-dollar program. When the Model Cities Program ended in 1975, she assumed the position of deputy director of fiscal management under the Department of Human Resources for the City of Jersey City.
In 1976, Haynes became the highest ranking black and female in Hudson County when she took over the county’s Division of Central Services that included running the county’s Division of Personnel, where she helped develop a Personnel Action and Job Performance Evaluation System. In 1978, the Jersey Journal awarded Haynes its "Woman of Achievement" award.
Over the years, Janet has been the recipient of numerous awards for her many humanitarian and public service efforts. In 1991 she received the prestigious Congresswoman Mary T. Norton award.
In 1993, Haynes became the first African-American and the first woman to be elected to a countywide office when she ran for a won the seat of county clerk – a position she would hold for two five-year terms. At the time of her death, she was preparing for a November election for a third term.
In 1994 she was honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, one of the hundreds of distinctions she would receive during her career.
Haynes served as chairperson of the board of directors for United Way, as a trustee of the HCCC and as a national board member for the Coalition of 100 Black Women.
Haynes was a proud woman who dressed impeccably despite the various infirmities that plagued the end of her life, and she was a potent political speaker when called upon.
"She had a lot of pride and a good stump political speaker," Kenny said "And she was loyal to her associates, and a very kind person with a great sense of humor. She will be missed."
Although Haynes, 70, was ill for a long time, her death at Christ Hospital came as shock to some.
"The death shocked me," DeGise said. "Janet called me a week to 10 days ago, just before she went into the hospital. She had to have surgery on her knee. I was concerned, but I didn’t know it was life-threatening. Now I’m bothered that I didn’t go and see her while she was there."