Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Brendan Byrne Represented the Best of New Jersey

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Brendan Byrne Represented the Best of New Jersey

Article excerpt

Almost immediately after reading Gov. Chris Christie's statement that former Gov. Brendan Byrne had died Thursday at age 93, I called former Gov. Tom Kean Sr. The deep bond between Byrne and Kean is widely known. Kean said, "We have been friends for 50 years."

I asked if Byrne had been ill, and Kean said, "He had his ups and downs, but then he would bounce back." There were no reprieves this time, and Kean added that he last saw his friend about three weeks ago and regretted he had not seen him since. The moment is gone.

Yet so much about Brendan Byrne will last forever. People often say that when someone dies — famous or not. But with Byrne it's true, because his legacy isn't buildings, which get demolished, but public policy and a vast environmental treasure: the Pinelands.

Byrne also gave New Jersey the income tax and gambling. The income tax was supposed to do great things for education. It did and it didn't, but don't blame Byrne for that. As a former prosecutor, he had the rare credentials to push through gambling in a state that was not convinced it was a good idea. Years later, he sarcastically lamented to me that he was so focused on keeping the mob out that he ignored the fact that the mob knew how to run a profitable casino. This was when casinos were closing in Atlantic City at an alarming rate.

I didn't know Byrne when he was governor or even relatively young. We met when I was asked to moderate a program at William Paterson University where he and Kean would banter. I was supposed to keep the conversation on track. It was a joy. Not just that night, but getting to know both governors, particularly Byrne.

Over the many years, I would meet Byrne and his wife, Ruthi, for lunch or dinner on a regular basis. If it were not for Byrne, I probably would never have grown fond of Pals Cabin, the legendary Essex County watering hole/restaurant that has since been demolished for a CVS.

Byrne would hold court there most afternoons. Thursday night on the phone, Kean even joked about how Byrne loved that place.

Byrne was always pushing a slice of their coconut cream pie like he was a trader with a stock tip. "Have the pie. Have the pie," he would tell me in between stories rich in Jersey history. …

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