The first to settle in Tenafly were the Dutch in the late 1600s. The name "Tenafly" is derived from the Dutch words "Tiene Vly" or "Ten Swamps" which was given by Dutch settlers in 1688.
Tenafly was incorporated as a borough on January 24, 1894, under an Act of the New Jersey Legislature from portions of the now-defunct Palisades Township, based on the results of a referendum held the previous day, at the height of the Boroughitis phenomenon sweeping through Bergen County at the time.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the borough has a total area of 5.2 square miles (13.5 km²), of which, 4.6 square miles (11.9 km²) of it is land and 0.6 square miles (1.5 km²) of it (11.15%) is water.
The eastern half of the town is known as the "East Hill" for its higher elevation in relation to the rest of the borough. The terrain rises rapidly to the east of the downtown area, ending at the spectacular New Jersey Palisades, overlooking the Hudson River. From atop the cliffs, Tenafly residents have a wide-ranging view of New York City. The Tenafly Nature Center is located at 313 Hudson Avenue.
There were 4,774 households out of which 43.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 70.6% were married couples living together, 8.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 19.0% were non-families. 16.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.86 and the average family size was 3.21.
In the borough the population was spread out with 28.3% under the age of 18, 4.7% from 18 to 24, 25.4% from 25 to 44, 26.4% from 45 to 64, and 15.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 92.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.5 males.
The median income for a household in the borough was $90,931, and the median income for a family was $111,029. Males had a median income of $79,641 versus $50,617 for females. The per capita income for the borough was $53,170. About 3.5% of families and 5.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.7% of those under age 18 and 3.3% of those age 65 or over.
The Mayor of Tenafly is Peter Rustin, whose term of office ends December 31, 2011. The Mayor is elected to a four-year term and is eligible for re-election. The Mayor presides over all meetings of the Council but may vote only in case of a tie. The Mayor has veto power, which may be overridden by a two-thirds vote of the Council.
The Borough Council consists of six members, who are elected at large for three-year terms on a staggered basis, with two seats up for election each year. As the legislative body, the Council adopts ordinances and resolutions, decides on appropriations, approves appointments made by the Mayor, determines policy, and establishes the functions of the various departments of the local government. Each Council member is chairperson of one of the six standing committees.
Members of the Tenafly Borough Council are Carol Hoernlein (Fire Committee; D, 2009), Nadia LaMastra (Administration & Personnel Committee; D, 2009), Michael Lattif (Finance Committee; D, 2008), Joseph McDermott (Buildings & Grounds Committee; D, 2010), Patrick J. Rouse (Police Commission; D, 2010) and Jon Warms (Public Works Committee; D, 2008).
In elections held on November 6, 2007, voters elected a Mayor and filled two seats on the Borough Council. Independent incumbent Peter S. Rustin (2,146) won re-election to a second term as mayor, outrunning Democratic Councilman Michael Lattif (665) and Republican William S. Saunders (382). The two Democrats running for office ran unopposed, with incumbent Patrick J. Rouse and newcomer Joseph McDermott winning three-year seats. The 2008 council taking office in January will consist entirely of Democrats.
On Election Day, November 7, 2006, voters filled two three-year terms on the Borough Council held by Republicans Charles M. Lipson and Joseph Salvatore, and the unexpired two-year term that had been filled by Jon Warms to replace Jeffrey Romano. As of Election Day, the council was split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans, in a community in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 5-4 margin. The Democrats swept all three seats, with challengers Carol Hoernlein (2,768 votes) and Nadia LaMastra (2,718) elected, defeating incumbents Salvatore (1,769) and Lipson (1,746). Jon Warms (with 2,830 votes) was elected to serve the balance of the two-year term, defeating Republican challenger (and longtime former Councilman and one-time Republican Mayoral primary candidate) William S. Saunders (1,629). As of January 1, 2007, when Hoernlein and LaMastra took office, the Democrats have a 5-1 edge.
In November 2005, Councilman Jeffery Romano was arrested in Newark following a drug bust that uncovered forty bags of heroin in his car. Romano resigned from the council in June 2006 after pleading guilty to heroin possession and was replaced, then temporarily, by Jon Warms, who has since been elected to his own full term (November 2006).
Tenafly is in the Fifth Congressional District and is part of New Jersey's 37th Legislative District.
On the national level, Tenafly leans towards the Democratic Party. In the 2004 presidential election, Democrat John Kerry received 61% of the vote here, defeating Republican George W. Bush, who received around 38%.
Tenafly High School was awarded the prestigious Blue Ribbon School Award, awarded by the United States Department of Education at a special assembly to the Tenafly High School Community on September 20, 2005. Tenafly was the only high school in New Jersey and one of 38 public high schools in the U.S. to receive the 2005 Blue Ribbon School Award.
Tenafly High School was the 2nd ranked public high school in New Jersey out of 316 schools statewide, in New Jersey Monthly magazine's September 2006 cover story on the state's Top Public High Schools.