Brendan Byrne

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Brendan Byrne
Brendan Byrne 2011.jpg
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 (age 90)
West Orange, New Jersey, U.S.
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Jean Featherly (1953–1993)
Ruthi Zinn (1994–present)
Children 7
Alma mater Princeton University
Harvard Law School
Military service
Years of service 1943–45
Rank US-O2 insignia.svg Lieutenant

Brendan Thomas Byrne (born April 1, 1924) is an American Democratic Party politician from New Jersey.

An attorney and former judge, Byrne was elected to two terms as Governor of New Jersey. He was the forty-seventh man to hold this office and as of 2014 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.

Early life and education[edit]

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 debating 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.[3]

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

New Jersey political career[edit]

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.[5]

1973 gubernatorial victory[edit]

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.[6] Byrne's landslide was so vast that it allowed Democrats to capture control of both chambers of the state legislature.[7]

On January 15, 1974, Brendan Byrne was sworn in as the 47th governor of New Jersey.[8]

First term as governor of New Jersey[edit]

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.[9]

Although Byrne claimed during the 1973 campaign that a personal income tax would not be necessary for "the foreseeable future", he eventually enacted the state's first income tax.[10]

1977 gubernatorial reelection[edit]

Byrne faced no fewer than 10 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 as many as 17 points.[11] 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.[12]

Second term as governor of New Jersey[edit]

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.[13]

Life after his tenure as governor[edit]

After leaving office in 1982, Governor Byrne became a senior partner at Carella, Byrne, Bain, Gilfillan, Cecchi, Stewart & Olstein in Roseland. 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. The following year he married Ruthi Zinn, president of Zinn, Graves & Field, a public relations firm.

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 Waterloo underground station. The attacker was subsequently restrained by a London Underground station supervisor who came to Byrne's aid until the police arrived.[14] Byrne told newspapers, "I never fell down, like when I fought Muhammad Ali."[15]

Positions held, past and present[edit]

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, the Rutgers Program on the Governor of the Eagleton Institute of Politics established the Brendan 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 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.[16]

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.[17]


  1. ^ Golway, Terry. "When Codey Talks, He Talks to Them", The New York Times, October 31, 2004. Accessed November 5, 2007. "Essex County, home of the state's largest city, Newark, and a diverse population of nearly 800,000, has not had a governor to call its own since Brendan T. Byrne – another native of West Orange – left office January 1982."
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Edward J. Mullin, Fitzgerald's New Jersey Legislative Manual, 1980, "Governor's Biography, p.413-414"
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Ronald Sullivan (November 7, 1973). "Sandman Routed — GOP Loses Control of State Legislature 3rd Time in Century". New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2014. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Edward J. Mullin, Fitzgerald's New Jersey Legislative Manual, 1980, "Governor's Biography, p.413"
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Kirby, Terry. "Sparrow impersonator saves visitor from meeting his Waterloo" London Evening Standard; February 19, 2010
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ Sandomir, Richard. " HOCKEY;Brendan Byrne Arena Goes Continental", The New York Times, January 5, 1996. Accessed March 29, 2008. "For nearly 15 years, it was officially the Brendan Byrne Arena. But that political homage to the former Democratic governor was covered forever today by a banner heralding the benefactor paying $29 million through 2007 as title sponsor of the arena: Continental Airlines."
  17. ^ The Newark Star Ledger. 

External links[edit]

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