Brendan Thomas Byrne (April 1, 1924 – January 4, 2018) was an American politician, statesman, and prosecutor, serving as the 47th Governor of New Jersey from 1974 to 1982.
|47th Governor of New Jersey|
January 15, 1974 – January 19, 1982
|Preceded by||William Cahill|
|Succeeded by||Thomas Kean|
|Prosecutor of Essex County|
February 16, 1959 – January 11, 1968
|Appointed by||Robert B. Meyner|
|Preceded by||Charles Webb|
|Succeeded by||Joseph P. Lordi|
Brendan Thomas Byrne
April 1, 1924
West Orange, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||January 4, 2018 93) (aged|
Livingston, New Jersey, U.S.
(m. 1953; div. 1993)
Ruthi Zinn (m. 1994)
|Education||Seton Hall University|
Princeton University (BA)
Harvard University (LLB)
|Years of service||1943–1945|
A member of the Democratic Party, Byrne started his career as a private attorney and worked in the New Jersey state government starting in 1955 before resuming his legal career after leaving office in 1982.
During his time as Governor, Byrne oversaw the opening of the first gambling casinos in Atlantic City, expanded the oceanside municipality's economic base, and established the New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate. He also saved a large majority of woodlands and wildlife areas in the state from development.
In the late 1970s, an FBI wiretap recorded local mobsters calling Byrne, "the man who couldn't be bought," a reference to his high ethical standards. The public's response to this propelled his popularity at a time when popular New Jersey politicians were being mired in corruption scandals. Byrne used the quote as the slogan for his successful re-election bid.
From 1981 to 1996, the Meadowlands Arena at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey, formerly home to the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League, New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association, and Seton Hall Pirates men's basketball was named Brendan Byrne Arena in his honor. The arena was then renamed Continental Airlines Arena, followed by IZOD Center.
Brendan Byrne State Park, located in New Lisbon, New Jersey was also named in his honor.
In 2011, Byrne was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame for his service to the state.
Early life and education
Byrne was born and raised in West Orange, New Jersey. He was the fourth child among five children of ethnic Irish American Catholic parents Francis A. Byrne (1886–1974), a local public safety commissioner and Genevieve Brennan Byrne (1888–1969).
In 1942, Byrne graduated from West Orange High School, where he had served as both the president of the debate club and senior class president. He briefly enrolled at Seton Hall University, only to leave in March the following year to join the U.S. Army. During World War II, Byrne served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals. By the time of his discharge from active service in 1945, he had achieved the rank of lieutenant.
After the war, Byrne attended Princeton University for two years, where he majored in Public and International Affairs. Due to the war, he spent only two years on campus, finishing his undergraduate thesis while enrolled at Harvard Law School. He graduated from Princeton in 1949, and went on to obtain his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1951.
In October 1955, Byrne was appointed an assistant counsel to Governor Robert B. Meyner. The following year he became the Governor's acting executive secretary. In 1958, Byrne was appointed the deputy attorney general responsible for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office. The following year, Governor Meyner appointed him as the Essex County Prosecutor. Governor Hughes reappointed Byrne to this same office in 1964 following the end of his first five-year term. From 1968 to 1970, Byrne served as the president of the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners.
In 1970, Byrne was appointed by Governor William T. Cahill to the Superior Court. He served as the assignment judge for Morris, Sussex, and Warren Counties starting in 1972. In April 1973, Byrne resigned from the Superior court to run for governor.
1973 gubernatorial victory
Byrne defeated Ann Klein and Ralph DeRose in the 1973 Democratic primary to win the party's nomination for governor. In the November general election, Byrne won by beating the Republican nominee Congressman Charles Sandman in a landslide. Sandman had defeated the incumbent Governor Cahill in the primary. Byrne's landslide margin of victory was so vast that it allowed Democrats to capture control both chambers of the state legislature with supermajorities.
First term as governor of New Jersey
Some of the policies enacted by the first Byrne administration include: the implementation of New Jersey's first state income tax, the establishment of spending limits on local governments, county governments, school districts, and the state, the establishment of both the Department of the Public Advocate and the Department of Energy, and the implementation of public financing for future gubernatorial general elections. Although Byrne claimed during the 1973 campaign that a personal income tax would not be necessary for "the foreseeable future", he eventually "muscled through" the unpopular income tax, New Jersey's first, in 1976; it earned him the nickname "One-Term Byrne".
1977 gubernatorial reelection
Byrne faced ten opponents in the 1977 Democratic primary, including future governor James Florio. However, Byrne obtained the party's nomination, and went on to defeat his Republican opponent, State Senator Raymond Bateman, in the general election on November 8, 1977. This despite the fact that in early 1977, three-quarters of voters disapproved of his job performance and in polls taken in the summer, he trailed Bateman by 17 points.
Byrne and Bateman debated nine times and Byrne used the governorship to his advantage, signing bills and appearing with cabinet members all over the state, benefiting from a visit by President Carter and turning what was his biggest weakness, the income tax, into a strength. Property taxes went down because of it, people got rebates and Bateman's plan—replacing it with an increased sales tax—was widely criticized.
Second term as governor of New Jersey
During his second term, Byrne focused on policies such as: the passage of the Pinelands Protection Act, expansion of major highways, including the Atlantic City Expressway and Interstate 287, upgrades to sewage systems, further development of the Meadowlands Sports Complex, and casino-hotel development in Atlantic City. He is the most recent Democrat to be elected governor twice. The other Governors elected to two terms (Thomas Kean, Christie Whitman, and Chris Christie) have all been Republicans.
After leaving office in 1982, Governor Byrne became a senior partner at Carella, Byrne, Bain, Gilfillan, Cecchi, Stewart & Olstein in Roseland, New Jersey (now Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody and Agnello, P.C.). Additionally, Byrne and his successor as governor, Thomas Kean, co-wrote a weekly column in The Star-Ledger, containing their "dialogue" on state and national public affairs and politics. He has also taught courses at Princeton University and Rutgers University.
In 2014, Donald Linky, Byrne's former chief counsel, published a biography of the former governor called New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne: The Man Who Couldn't Be Bought.
Despite not supporting all of his policies, Byrne said that Governor Chris Christie should run for president in 2016, calling Christie "the best candidate that the Republicans have" and complimented his "charm".
On February 16, 2010, while vacationing in London with his wife, Byrne was punched in the face by a mentally ill man near Waterloo tube station. The attacker was subsequently restrained by a London Underground station supervisor who came to Byrne's aid until the police arrived. Byrne, who had taken part in a "staged charity boxing match with Muhammad Ali in 1979", joked: "At least I didn't fall down at Waterloo, as when I fought Ali."
On June 27, 1953, he married Jean Featherly, with whom he had seven children. Jean and Brendan Byrne divorced amicably in 1993, and both Byrne and his wife stated that they had "grown apart". Byrne married his second wife, Ruth Zinn, who was also divorced, in 1994. Jean Byrne died in 2015 of babesiosis, aged 88.
Byrne died on January 4, 2018, at his home in Livingston, New Jersey, of a lung infection at the age of 93.
His funeral was held on January 8 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, then-Governor Chris Christie and Governor-elect Phil Murphy, former Governors Thomas Kean, Donald DiFrancesco, Jim McGreevey, Richard Codey and Jon Corzine and U. S. Representative Bill Pascrell were in attendance. Byrne's remains were cremated and his ashes were spread in Hudson County and in the Pine Barrens.
In 2006, Rutgers University's Center on the American Governor of the Eagleton Institute of Politics established the Brendan T. Byrne Archive, an online database containing various resources from the Byrne administration, including original documents and video interviews with Brendan Byrne and members of his administration.
The Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (formerly Lebanon State Forest) is named for him. The Brendan Byrne Arenain the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford was also named for him, although it was renamed the Continental Airlines Arena in 1996.
Byrne's son, Tom Byrne, was the New Jersey Democratic State Committee chair in the 1990s and was a prospective candidate for the U.S. Senate race in 2000, before withdrawing in favor of eventual winner Jon Corzine, who later became governor.
- "Brendan Byrne, Governor Who Gave New Jersey Casinos, Dies at 93". Bloomberg. January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- "Son: Former New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne, Democrat who mobsters said was too ethical to be bribed, dies at age 93". The Washington Post. January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- "Ex-New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne, too ethical for mobsters, dies at 93". Chicago Tribune. January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- "Governor Brendan T. Byrne Timeline". Rutgers University Center on the American Governor. Rutgers University. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
- DeMarco, Megan (January 21, 2011). "Queen Latifah, Gov. Brendan Byrne announced as New Jersey Hall of Fame class of 2011 inductees". The Star-Ledger.
- Golway, Terry (October 31, 2004). "When Codey Talks, He Talks to Them". The New York Times.
- Portnoy, Jenna (January 4, 2018). "Brendan Byrne, two-term New Jersey governor in 1970s, dies at 93". The Washington Post.
- "Brendan Byrne, Former New Jersey Governor, Dies at 93". The Star-Ledger. January 8, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- "Governor Brendan T. Byrne Biography". Center on the American Governor. Rutgers University. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
- Edward J. Mullin, Fitzgerald's New Jersey Legislative Manual, 1980, "Governor's Biography, p. 413-414"
- Furgerson, Laura Kidd (January 4, 2018). "Former New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne Dies At 93". Hackensack Daily Voice. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- Christie, Chris (January 4, 2018). "Governor Chris Christie On The Passing Of Governor Brendan T. Byrne". Office of the Governor. Archived from the original on January 5, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- Sullivan, Ronald (November 7, 1973). "Sandman Routed — GOP Loses Control of State Legislature 3rd Time in Century". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2014.
- "Election Decimates the G.O.P.'s Ranks in Trenton". The New York Times. November 8, 1973. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
- Sullivan, Ronald (November 9, 1973). "Jersey Republicans Urge Party Purge". The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
- Edward J. Mullin, Fitzgerald's New Jersey Legislative Manual, 1980, "Governor's Biography, p.413"
- Haddon, Heather (December 19, 2014). "Brendan Byrne, 90 Years Old and Still in the Mix". The Wall Street Journal.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 26, 2014. Retrieved May 26, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on May 26, 2014. Retrieved May 26, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Son: Former New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne, Democrat who mobsters said was too ethical to be bribed, dies at age 93". ABC News. January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
- Sherman, Ted (February 16, 2010). "Former N.J. Gov. Brendan Byrne is mugged, punched in face while in London". The Star-Ledger.
- Kirby, Terry (February 19, 2010). "Jack Sparrow impersonator saves visitor from meeting his Waterloo". London Evening Standard.
- "Former N.J. First Lady Jean Byrne dies at 88". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
- Linky, Donald (October 13, 2014). New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne: The Man Who Couldn't Be Bought. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781611477436.
- "Hundreds gather to remember former N.J. Gov. Byrne". New Jersey.com. January 8, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2018.
- "What they said about Brendan Byrne: Former governors salute their colleague". Daily Record. January 8, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2018.
- "Brendan T. Byrne Archive". Center on the American Governor. Rutgers University. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
- Sandomir, Richard (January 5, 1996). "Brendan Byrne Arena Goes Continental". The New York Times.
- "Summer Reading 2015: Biography Takes Admiring Look at Popular Governor - NJ Spotlight". NJSpotlight.com. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
- New Jersey Governor Brendan Thomas Byrne, National Governors Association
- Rutgers Program on the Governor, the Brendan Byrne Archive
|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for Governor of New Jersey
Ella T. Grasso
| Chair of the Democratic Governors Association
| Governor of New Jersey