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Brendan Byrne

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Title: Brendan Byrne  
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Subject: New Jersey gubernatorial election, 1977, New Jersey gubernatorial election, 1973, List of Governors of New Jersey, William T. Cahill, Robert Torricelli
Collection: 1924 Births, American Military Personnel of World War II, American People of Irish Descent, American Roman Catholics, Democratic Party State Governors of the United States, Governors of New Jersey, Harvard Law School Alumni, Living People, New Jersey Democrats, New Jersey Gubernatorial Candidates, New Jersey State Court Judges, People from West Orange, New Jersey, Princeton University Alumni, Recipients of the Air Medal, Recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross (United States), Seton Hall University Alumni
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Brendan Byrne

Brendan Byrne
Byrne in 2011
47th Governor of New Jersey
In office
January 15, 1974 – January 19, 1982
Preceded by William Cahill
Succeeded by Thomas Kean
Essex County Prosecutor
In office
February 16, 1959 – January 11, 1968
Preceded by Charles V. Webb
Succeeded by Joseph P. Lordi
Personal details
Born (1924-04-01) April 1, 1924
West Orange, New Jersey, U.S.
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Jean Featherly (1953–1993; divorced)
Ruthi Zinn (1994–present)
Children 7
Alma mater Princeton University
Harvard Law School
Military service
Years of service 1943–45
Rank Lieutenant

Brendan Thomas Byrne (born April 1, 1924) is an American Democratic Party politician who served for two terms as the 47th Governor of New Jersey from 1974 to 1982. Elected in the wave of anti-Republican backlash arising from the Watergate scandal, he ushered in a period of reform of the state government and tax structure.


  • Early life and education 1
  • New Jersey political career 2
    • 1973 gubernatorial victory 2.1
    • First term as governor of New Jersey 2.2
    • 1977 gubernatorial reelection 2.3
    • Second term as governor of New Jersey 2.4
  • Life after governorship 3
  • Positions held, past and present 4
  • Legacy 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life and education

Byrne was born and raised in West Orange, New Jersey.[1] He is the fourth of Francis A. Byrne (1888–1973) and Genevieve (Brennan) Byrne's five children.

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.[2] By the time of his discharge from active service in 1945, he had achieved the rank of lieutenant.

After the war, and thanks to the G.I. Bill, Byrne attended Princeton University for two years, where he majored in Public and International Affairs. He did not graduate, but went on to obtain his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1951.

On June 27, 1953, he married Jean Featherly,[2] with whom he had seven children. Jean and Brendan Byrne divorced in 1993. Byrne married his second wife, Ruth Zinn, in 1994. Former First Lady of New Jersey Jean Byrne died in 2015.[3]

Prior to entering public service, Byrne worked as a private attorney, first for the Newark law firm of John W. McGeehan, Jr., and later for the East Orange firm of Teltser and Greenberg.[4]

New Jersey political career

In October 1955, Byrne was appointed an assistant counsel to Governor Robert B. Meyner, and 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.[2]

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, who had defeated the incumbent Governor Cahill in the primary.[2] Byrne's landslide was so vast that it allowed Democrats to capture control of both chambers of the state legislature.[5]

First term as governor of New Jersey

On January 15, 1974, Brendan Byrne was sworn in as the 47th governor of New Jersey.[2]

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.[6] 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".[7]

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.[8] 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 criticised.[9]

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.[2] He is the most recent Democrat to be elected twice. The other Governors elected to two terms (Thomas Kean, Christie Whitman, and Chris Christie) have all been Republicans.[7]

Life after governorship

After leaving office in 1982, Governor Byrne became a senior partner at Carella, Byrne, Bain, Gilfillan, Cecchi, Stewart & Olstein in Roseland, New Jersey. Additionally, Byrne and his successor as governor, Thomas Kean, co-write 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 1993, Byrne and his wife Jean Featherly divorced.

On February 16, 2010, while vacationing in London with his wife, Byrne was punched in the face by a mentally ill man. The attack took place outside the 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."[10][11]

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.[7][12]

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".[7]

Positions held, past and present

Byrne is a member of the Essex County and New Jersey State Bar Associations.

He also served as:

  • Editor of the Irish Law Reports
  • Essex County Prosecutor, 1959–1968
  • Vice President of the National District Attorneys Association, 1968
  • President of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, 1968–1970
  • New Jersey Superior Court Judge, 1970–1973
  • Court Assignment Judge, 1973
  • Governor of the State of New Jersey, 1974–1982
  • Trustee of Princeton University, 1974–1982
  • Chairman of the Princeton University Council on New Jersey Affairs, 1985–1989
  • First Chair of the U.S. Marshalls Foundation
  • Member of the Advisory Board, National Judicial College
  • And as a member of the Board of Directors of the
    • Chelsea GA Carvel Foundation
    • Elizabethtown Water Company
    • Prudential Insurance Company
    • Cali Realty Company


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.[13]

The Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (formerly Lebanon State Forest) is named for him. The Brendan T. Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford was also named for him, although it was renamed the Continental Airlines Arena in 1996, and then the Izod Center in 2007.[14]

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.

In 2011, Byrne was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame along with Queen Latifah, John Travolta, and ten others.[15]

The Man who Couldn’t be Bought is a biprgrtpahy of Byrne published in 2015.


  1. ^ Golway, Terry (31 October 2004). "When Codey Talks, He Talks to Them". New York Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Governor Brendan T. Byrne Biography". Center on the American Governor.  
  3. ^
  4. ^ Edward J. Mullin, Fitzgerald's New Jersey Legislative Manual, 1980, "Governor's Biography, p.413-414"
  5. ^ Ronald Sullivan (November 7, 1973). "Sandman Routed — GOP Loses Control of State Legislature 3rd Time in Century". New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2014. 
  6. ^ Edward J. Mullin, Fitzgerald's New Jersey Legislative Manual, 1980, "Governor's Biography, p.413"
  7. ^ a b c d Haddon, Heather (December 19, 2014). "Brendan Byrne, 90 Years Old and Still in the Mix". Wall Street Journal. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Kirby, Terry (19 February 2010). "Jack Sparrow impersonator saves visitor from meeting his Waterloo". London Evening Standard. 
  11. ^ Ted Sherman (February 16, 2010). "Former N.J. Gov. Brendan Byrne is mugged, punched in face while in London". The Star-Ledger. 
  12. ^ Linky, Donald (2014). New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne: The Man Who Couldn’t Be Bought. Fairleigh Dickinson.  
  13. ^ "Brendan T. Byrne Archive". Center on the American Governor. Rutgers University. Retrieved 21 December 2014. 
  14. ^ Sandomir, Richard (January 5, 1996). "Brendan Byrne Arena Goes Continental". New York Times. 
  15. ^ Megan DeMarco (January 21, 2011). "Queen Latifah, Gov. Brendan Byrne announced as New Jersey Hall of Fame class of 2011 inductees".  

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert Meyner
Democratic nominee for Governor of New Jersey
1973, 1977
Succeeded by
James Florio
Political offices
Preceded by
William Cahill
Governor of New Jersey
Succeeded by
Thomas Kean
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