Magazine article The New Yorker

Governors' Club

Magazine article The New Yorker

Governors' Club

Article excerpt

Brendan Byrne, the governor of New Jersey from 1974 to 1982, reclined on a sofa at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, in Newark, dressed in a seersucker suit. "I'm ready for lunch," he said, thumbing a brass tie clip inscribed with his name. It was just past eleven in the morning. Christine Todd Whitman stood nearby, gazing out the window. "It's been a long time," she said, referring to her own stint as governor, which began in 1994. Soon James Florio, Whitman's predecessor, arrived. "Tell me what I'm doing here," he said. Whitman laughed, and then noticed Thomas Kean--Byrne's successor and Florio's predecessor--approaching. "There's Tom," she said, and waved. Byrne clapped. More handshakes.

"So," Kean said. "We're here. Why?"

Lacking the attaches of sitting executives, the best answer they could come up with was that they'd been invited by Byrne's wife, Ruthi, a marketing and public-relations executive, who was greeting guests--a "Who's Who" of the Garden State, as she later put it--in a banquet room down the hall.

Florio to Byrne: "Brendan, the first time I met you, you were wearing that suit. It was 1973."

Byrne to Kean: "How many green ties do you have?"

Kean to Byrne: "Only your wife could have gotten us here. Only Ruthi."

A man named John Mooney, the founding editor of an online news service called NJ Spotlight, introduced himself as the moderator of a discussion that would soon follow in the banquet room, and mentioned that he was hoping to get each of them to say something complimentary, on the dais, about another governor.

"Are we going to have an opportunity to make a statement about something we care about?" Byrne asked. Mooney reassured him that they would. "Just the elected governors," Byrne went on, alluding to interim governors like Richard Codey and Donald DiFrancesco, who served briefly in the wakes of the resignations of James McGreevey ("I am a gay American") and Whitman (to run the Environmental Protection Agency).

"So we can ignore the unelected ones?" Whitman asked.

"Somehow the elected governors have a gut feeling that the unelected governors--" Byrne began.

"We're not going to go there," Mooney interrupted, and added that he was planning to ask the governors about the current governor, Chris Christie, who had recently elevated the job to a position of greater national prominence. …

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