LESTER HARRISON CLEE – CLERGYMAN & POLITICIAN

I said in the previous post on the Second Presbyterian Church  that their Minister Lester Harrison Clee was worth a second look. Numerous sources agreed.Clee (July 1, 1888-March 15, 1962) was a Presbyterian clergyman and a politician who served in both houses of the New Jersey Legislature and was the Republican nominee for Governor of New Jersey in 1937.

Clee was born in Thompsonville, Connecticut. At a young age his father’s illness compelled him to go to Worcester, Massachusetts to work in a steel mill. In short order, he had started a boys’ club among his fellow mill workers and in 1908 he began working for the YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts. Clee married his first wife , Katherine Steele, on August 9,1911.

Clee educated himself for the ministry while serving as an assistant to the pastor of West End Presbyterian Church in New York City from 1918 to 1921. His first pastorate was at the Rutherford Baptist Church in Bergen County, NJ from 1921 to 1926 after which time he became pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Newark, NJ. He served as pastor of Second Presbyterian for nearly 25 years before retiring in 1950.

Clee was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1934 on the Essex County Clean Government ticket. The following year he briefly served as Speaker of the Assembly before being elected to the New Jersey Senate.

In 1937 he became the Republican nominee for the Governor of New Jersey against Democratic candidate A. Harry Moore. Clee carried 15 of the state’s 21 counties, but Moore won the election thanks to more than 45,000 votes in his home county of Hudson. The Hudson returns were widely suspected to be fraudulent, the result of Jersey City Mayor Frank “I am the Law” Hague’s Democratic machine and his tight control of Hudson County’s electoral process. Indeed, a rabbi who had left NJ 3 years prior was found to have voted for Moore in a Jersey City polling place.The rabbi’s affidavit to this fact was ignored. Clee and his supporters fought this fraud. This effort was ended a week before A. Harry Moore’s inauguration when a judge aligned with Hague threw out the challenge.

Clee later served as chairman of the State Mediation Board under Governor Alfred E. Driscoll, and was also a president of the State civil Service Commission and a member of the State Parole Board. He moved to Chester Borough in 1950 and served as both councilman and mayor. He moved to Princeton in 1954. His wife Katherine died in January 1954 and in 1955 he married Madeleine Dreier.

From 1959 to 1960 he was a trustee and acting president of Bloomfield College and Seminary, now simply known as Bloomfield College. A dormitory, Clee Hall, is named in his honor.

The post card illustrating this blog shows the sanctuary of the third home of the Second Presbyterian Church dedicated in 1932 while Clee was pastor.IMG_4759MA30010062-0001IMG_4760MA30010060-0002

 

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