Governor James J. Florio Archive

James J. Florio was elected Governor of New Jersey on November 7, 1989, defeating Republican Congressman James Courter by a 62-38% margin. Inaugurated on January 16, 1990, Florio served until January 18, 1994 when he was succeeded by Christine Todd Whitman.

Governor James J. Florio Archive

The Governor James J. Florio Archive, launched in January 2012, features a growing body of information about the Florio administration including major speeches, reports, memos, press accounts and other material generated during the time as well as newly generated retrospective interviews, forums and analysis. The Center on the American Governor welcomes suggestions and corrections to make this archive as accurate, informative and useful as possible.


James J. Florio was born in Brooklyn, New York on August 29, 1937. He attended local public schools and then, while serving in the U.S. Navy from 1955-1958, took correspondence courses and received a high school equivalency diploma from the State of New Jersey. Florio received a B.A. from Trenton State College in 1962 and did graduate work at Columbia University in 1962-1963 before earning a J.D. from Rutgers University Law School in Camden, New Jersey in 1967 and being admitted to the New Jersey bar later that year. From 1958-1975, he also served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

Florio’s first jobs as a lawyer were as an assistant city attorney for the City of Camden Legal Department from 1967-1971 and , as solicitor for the New Jersey towns of Runnemede, Wood-Lynne, and Somerdale from 1969-1974. He was elected to the New Jersey State Assembly in 1969 and reelected in 1971 and 1973.

In 1974, Florio was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New Jersey’s First District. Re-elected seven times, he served in Washington from January 3, 1975 until January 16, 1990, when he was inaugurated as Governor.

Click here for Governor Florio’s full biography.

Cabinet and Staff

Assembling a cabinet and staff is one of the most important and difficult tasks a governor-elect faces. For Governor Florio, Karen Kessler and eventual Chief of Staff Steven Perskie led that effort during the transition. At a Eagleton Center on the American Governor roundtable discussion, Kessler emphasized that Governor Florio insisted on casting a wide net in hiring for the administration. She said, “the governor was very clear to us and said, ‘I’m looking for the best. That’s what I’m looking for. And I don’t care where they’re from. And I don’t care how you find them; I’m looking for the best.'”


Governor Florio’s Staff

Chief of Staff
Steven P Perskie (1990)
Joseph C. Salema (1990-1993)
Rick Wright (1993-1994)

Counsel to the Governor
John A. Sweeney (1990-1991)
Andrew Weber (1991-1992)
M. Robert DeCottis (1992-1993)
Scott A. Weiner (1993-1994)

Counsel for Legislation and Policy
Gregory E. Lawler (1990-1994)

Chief of Management and Planning
Brenda J. Bacon (1990-1994)

Continue to a full list of Governor Florio’s Cabinet and Staff

State Legislature During the Florio Administration

When Governor James J. Florio was inaugurated in 1990, he came into office with strong majorities of Democrats in both the Assembly and Senate. Six new Democratic members of the Assembly had been elected with him, giving the Party a total of 44 of the 80 seats and bringing them into the majority for the first time in four years.

The Republicans did pick up one seat in the Senate, reducing the Democratic majority in that chamber to 23 of the 40 seats. With strong support in both houses of the legislature, Governor Florio was able to pass significant major legislation early in his term including a ban on assault weapons, an increase in education funding, and tax increases to bridge a growing deficit.

Two years later, in the 1991 legislative midterm election with new district boundaries having been drawn in response to the 1990 census, the tide swung strongly against the Democrats, ousting record numbers from both chambers. Twenty-two new Republicans entered the Assembly joined by 10 new Republican in the Senate, delivering the Republican party united control of the legislature for the first time in 20 years, and veto-proof super-majorities. For the second two years of his term, Governor Florio was forced to contend with a much more oppositional legislature that, most dramatically, overrode his veto of the state budget it had passed for Fiscal Year 1992.

Click here for a list of all members of the New Jersey legislature during the years of the Florio Administration.

State Supreme Court During the Florio Administration

The New Jersey governor is able to nominate new members to the Supreme Court when openings occur through resignation, death or retirement of sitting justices. Once confirmed by the Senate, appointed justices initially serve a seven-year term after which they can be nominated for tenure by the sitting governor and, if reconfirmed by the State Senate, remain on the Court until they reach the mandatory retirement age of 70.

During his four years in office, Governor Florio did not have the opportunity to appoint any new justices to the Supreme Court, but did nominate Gary Stein, originally appointed by Governor Kean, for tenure. Stein was confirmed on January 11, 1992 and continued to serve for another 10 years before retiring. Throughout Governor Florio’s term, the state Supreme Court maintained the same membership, led by Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz, originally nominated by Governor Byrne and granted tenure under Governor Kean.

Chief Justice
Robert N. Wilentz, tenured

Associate Justices
Robert L. Clifford, tenured
Alan B. Handler, tenured
Steward G. Pollock, tenured
Daniel J. O’Hern, tenured
Marie L. Garibaldi, tenured
Gary S. Stein, gained tenure on January 11, 1992

Governor Florio's Executive Orders

During his four years in office, Governor Florio issued a total of 115 executive orders ranging from the symbolic lowering of the state flag to the more policy-oriented creation of the state’s first Environmental Prosecutor (Executive Order #2). Numerically, Florio signed more orders in a single term than any previous governor since the 1947 State Constitution took effect, and his pace in issuing them would not be exceeded until James McGreevey assumed the governorship eight years later.

Click here for a list of all of Governor Florio’s Executive Orders.

Major Issues

The Eagleton Center on the American Governor has convened roundtable forum discussions on the following topics related to the Florio Administration. Governor Florio, members of his staff and cabinet, and other interested observers have participated in each event. The events were videotaped and are available in our Video Library.

The Video Library also contains a recording of a program held at the Eagleton Institute of Politics on Governor Florio’s assault weapons ban, and his receiving the Profiles in Courage award from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and a collection of campaign advertisements from Governor Florio’s 1993 campaign for election to governor and his 1993 re-election campaign.

The Florio Archive also contains a special section on the Governor’s Management Review Commission, an effort begun by Governor Florio to promote government efficiency and reform.

In 2018, Governor Florio released a political memoir titled Standing on Principle: Lessons Learned in Public Life, published by Rutgers University Press. The Eagleton Center on the American Governor hosted a book launch celebration, highlighted by a conversation between Governor Florio and MSNBC host Steve Kornacki.

Outside Resources

Additional information about Governor Florio can be found at: