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Governor Brendan T. Byrne Humor

When Brendan Byrne was elected governor, he was not known as a particularly good or funny public speaker. That perception, which began to change during his eight years in office, was in subsequent years completely replaced by a reputation as a terrific story teller with a keen wit. Some of the many quotes now associated with him may not have been original but his delivery and perfect sense of timing made them his and part of his lasting legacy to New Jersey. Some examples from during and after his tenure as Governor of NJ:


  • “I want to be buried in Hudson County so that I can remain active in politics.”
  • (Following media reports of his daughter Susan’s minor accident while parking an official State car at Newark Airport to pick up her then boyfriend) “I get criticized a lot for how many times I use the State helicopter to go places. But what’s a guy to do when his daughter’s got the car?”
  • “I knew I’d get re-elected when people started waving at me using all five fingers.”
  • “At my age, before I buy anything in the supermarket, I look at the expiration dates on the products. Milk is usually a safe bet.”
  • “William Franklin, the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin, was the last Royal governor of the colony of New Jersey. Some people think he was only the first of a long line of bastards to hold the office.”
  • (Commenting on the pen that he used to make the income tax permanent in 1976) “It’s encased in Lucite. Thankfully, it is now too large to use for the purpose that many of my critics suggested I do with it.”
  • (Following a skit by State House reporters at the annual NJ Legislative Correspondents Club dinner suggesting that the Governor couldn’t read beyond a fifth-grade level) “It is not true that I can only read at a fifth-grade level, I read out-of-state papers too.”
  • At another NJ Legislative Correspondents Club dinner, former Gov. Robert Meyner reminisced at length about governors he had known over 40 or 50 years. “When he finally sat down and it was my turn, I informed the gathering that Meyner had asked me to cover from Governor William Livingston, New Jersey’s first constitutional governor, to Woodrow Wilson, two centuries later.”
  • “Lindy Boggs, then a congresswoman from Louisiana, was the mother of Barbara Sigmund, the mayor of Princeton. Lindy’s grandson played with my son Bill, so we had something in common. All this became relevant when, in 1977, I was named as a member of the American delegation to the investiture of Pope John Paul I. We were to fly to Rome on Air Force 2 with the vice president. Must have been 20 of us on the plane. The seats were tourist class, but with a vacant seat in the middle. I opted to sit in the same row with Lindy and, with the middle seat empty, we flew together all night to Rome. A couple of months later I ran into Louisiana’s notorious Governor Edwin Edwards. ‘Ed, I recently slept with one of your girlfriends,’ I said. Without a second’s hesitation, Edwards replied, ‘Good. Made her appreciate me all the more.'”
  • During a Cabinet meeting in his last year in office, the Governor remarked that several members of the Cabinet were reportedly considering becoming a candidate to succeed him in the 1981 gubernatorial election, commenting: “Gee, I must have made it look too easy!”
  • On hearing Governor Florio comment that a mayor of Pittsburgh had narrowly avoided indictment for giving a sweetheart contract to a union that later endorsed the mayor’s re-election: “If you can’t hand out fat contracts and get endorsements, what’s life for?”
  • “A Hudson County politician is a guy who is born poor but honest, and spends a lifetime trying to overcome those habits.”
  • “A few years ago, a horse named ‘Hudson County’ finished second in the Kentucky Derby. A veteran Hudson County political reporter explained: ‘He was supposed to finish second’. “
  • “Governor Dick Hughes used to tell the story of Barney Doyle, a long-time Hudson County hanger-on whom Hughes finally appointed as director of weights and measures. At his swearing in, a reporter asked Barney ‘how many ounces in a pound’, to which Barney responded: ‘Give me a break, I just got this job’. “
  • “Another Hudson County story tells of a neighborhood political leader who finally went too far, was convicted of corruption but was still out on bail waiting to be sentenced to prison. One day, a neighbor comes up to him on the street and asks: ‘Hey Joe, can you get me one of those low license plate numbers?’ to which he responds, “Well, if you can wait a couple months, I’ll make you one!'”
  • On his low level of popularity: “There was poll that showed 96% of the people knew who I was, and 4% thought I was doing a good job.”
  • Expressing frustration at negative media coverage: “You know I look out this window at the Delaware River and I figured if I walked across the water, the headlines next day would say ‘Byrne Can’t Swim.’”
  • “One time I argued a case before the State Supreme Court at which my mentor, Chief Justice Weintraub, gave me a particularly tough grilling and the Court ruled against me. Later, when I had a chance to talk to him privately, I said: ‘I don’t understand. I thought I did a pretty good job and you taught me everything I know.’ And he replied, ‘But I didn’t teach you everything that I know.’
  • Congressman Don Payne tells a great story about how to have a perfect marriage. “When you’re married 25 years, you take her to Hawaii. And when you’re married 50 years, you go to pick her up.”
  • “In the summer of ’77, I was running for re-election despite all the political advice that said I couldn’t win. Polls showed me down 17 points, and those were the good ones.There were two or three regulars in my weekly tennis game on the court at Morven – Bill Dwyer, J.P. Miller, maybe Ed Meara – and absent some crisis we would be out there at 10 a.m. every Saturday if the weather permitted. The guys rarely spoke of the upcoming election. Sorta like not mentioning rope in the home of a man who has been hanged. This one Saturday we had split sets and had got to 6-all in the third set. Naturally, someone asked if we should play a tiebreaker. ‘Play it out,” I said. ‘We have the court until January.'”
  • “I don’t understand people from Somerset County. They’re rich before they go into politics!”
  • “If you live in New Jersey, and you’re not getting something for nothing, you’re not getting your fair share.”
  • “One of the cardinal rules of New Jersey politics is, there’s no such thing as a private conversation. Somewhere along the line, you are going to be taped by someone wearing a wire. This is why so many political meetings start with a big bear hug – a New Jersey pat down among friends.”
  • “Remember that stuff they put in our food during World War II, to prevent us from getting excited about girls?” said Byrne at the dedication of a monument to New Jersey soldiers when he was 84 years of age. “It’s beginning to work.”

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