Stanley Harwood died Friday of lung cancer. He was 84.

Stanley Harwood died Friday of lung cancer. He was 84. Credit: Newsday/Jim Peppler

Stanley Harwood, a former state appellate judge and Nassau Democratic chairman, who helped steer a fractious party to a 1974 landmark election upset as well as through numerous reversals, died Friday of lung cancer. He was 84.

As a Democrat in a heavily Republican county at the time, Harwood won a State Assembly seat in Levittown in 1965, then lost it seven years later, when presidential candidate Richard Nixon led a GOP sweep.

The year after his loss, Harwood became county chairman - a post he held the next eight years. In 1974, he encouraged a little-known prosecutor from the Bronx, Denis Dillon, to run against an entrenched Nassau district attorney backed by the county's then-fabled GOP machine.

Dillon won that election and seven more, though he switched parties in 1989. Still, the two remained friendly. And Harwood also maintained his equanimity when rivals within his party blamed him for county-level losses in 1977 and 1981.

"It was a difficult time for Democrats, because Democrats had a very difficult time winning any place in Nassau County," said Judy Jacobs, a county legislator from Woodbury. "And yet, he kept his demeanor intact. He was a class act."

In 1982, Harwood was elected a Supreme Court justice in Nassau in a cross-endorsement agreement with Republicans - a common practice on Long Island. In 1987, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo named him to an Appellate Division court covering the Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Westchester.

Acquaintances Saturday recalled Harwood's ability to remain on respectful terms with Republicans - in contrast to the name-calling common in today's politics.

"He was able to deal with the other party in a civil way that we don't see any more," said Lawrence Levy, a former Newsday political columnist, now executive director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

Harwood remained on the court until 1992. He then stepped down to care for his wife of 42 years, Deborah, his sweetheart since they both attended James Madison High School in Brooklyn. She died in 1995.

A son, Michael, a Manhattan attorney, said his father as a judge would often work long after dinner, poring over legal documents. "Being a judge was the love of his life," he said.

Stanley Harwood was born in Brooklyn on June 23, 1926, the son of an attorney. He served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II, earned his bachelor's at Columbia University and graduated from Columbia Law School in 1952. After law school, he began his career as an attorney with the Navy Department in Washington, then returned to New York to work in private practice and as a judge's law secretary.

Besides his son, Harwood is survived by his second wife, the former Cathleen Hamilton of Centerport; a brother, Ted, of Boca Raton, Fla.; sons Richard, of Seattle, and Jonathan, of Westchester; a daughter, Ellen Jacobs of Chicago; six grandchildren; three stepchildren and eight step-grandchildren.

A funeral was scheduled for 9 a.m. Sunday at Gutterman's Funeral Home in Woodbury. The family will be sitting shiva at the Centerport home Sunday and Monday.

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