Governor of New Jersey 1974-1982
Prior to his election as governor in November 1973, Brendan T. Byrne served on the staff of Governor Robert B. Meyner, who subsequently appointed him as Essex County prosecutor. He would later be named by Governor Richard J. Hughes as president of thePublic Utilities Commission and by Governor William T. Cahill as a Superior Court judge.
After being elected governor in 1973 on the heels of State and federal scandals, Governor Byrne’s turbulent time in office saw such measures as
- adopting a long-term program for protecting the resources of the New Jersey Pinelands covering nearly a third of the state’s land area;
- implementing fiscal reform in the financing and oversight of public education, including enacting the state’s first income tax and the first mandatory caps on government spending;
- approving the commencement of casino gambling in Atlantic City and overseeing the start of the City’s redevelopment;
- creating the Department of the Public Advocate, the nation’s first state agency protecting the public interest in consumer issues, housing and access to beaches and other natural resources;
- establishing New Jersey Transit, the first statewide public transit agency in the nation;
- enacting the Spill Compensation and Control Act, the model for the national Superfund program to protect against toxic spills and finance the cleanup of hazardous sites;
- developing the financing program supporting the construction of Giants Stadium and subsequently the indoor sports and entertainment arena in the Meadowlands; modernizing the State’s criminal code and sentencing guidelines;
- starting the restoration of the Hudson waterfront, including the opening of Liberty State Park, the most visited State park;
- authorizing the nation’s first program for the public financing of gubernatorial elections;
- developing the State’s first water supply plan and constructing reservoirs and other infrastructure;
- expanding public access to government and the political processes through the so-called “Sunshine Law”;
- creating the State Economic Development Authority to attract business investment and jobs to the state; and
- establishing a process for the independent review and appeal of administrative actions by State agencies.
While in office, Governor Byrne’s Administration also confronted such emergencies as
- the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in neighboring Pennsylvania;
- the energy crisis provoked by the Arab oil embargo requiring compulsory restrictions on energy use;
- the failure of the Trenton water supply plant requiring emergency construction of a temporary pipeline to restore water distribution to the City; and
- several natural disasters, including hurricanes and floods.
Governor Byrne also restructured the State’s emergency response units, consolidating civil defense and other functions under the State Police.
Other controversies during the Byrne Administration included
- the legal proceedings challenging the murder conviction of former boxing champion Ruben “Hurricane” Carter;
- the Karen Ann Quinlan case establishing national precedents relating to family rights in “right to die” situations; and
- the efforts by the widow of Bruno Hauptmann, who had been executed in the Trenton State Prison on April 3, 1936 for the kidnap and murder of the infant son of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, to reopen the case.
See full biography.