Former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne, who presided over the legalization of the casino game in Atlantic City and almost lost reelection after establishing the state's first income tax, died at age 93.
The Democrat celebrated the New Jersey the most important office from 1974 to 1982. His death was announced by Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who nonetheless recognized Byrne as a role model.
"Governor Byrne had an extraordinary career in public service," Christie said in a statement. 19659008] Christie noted that Byrne was a prosecutor and judge of the Superior Court before becoming governor. "He did each of those jobs with integrity, honesty, intelligence, ingenuity and style."
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Byrne was a World War II veteran who graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School.
After serving as Essex County prosecutor and Superior Court judge, he ran for governor in 1973. He obtained the Democratic nomination and then defeated conservative Republican Charles Sandman in a landslide.
A year later, he appealed to the legislature to approve a state income tax to finance public schools and for tax relief of property, a measure that almost led to its political ruin.
"The move contributed to a massive drop in the polls, with its approval rating dropping to 17 percent in 1977, the lowest of all New Jersey governors until Christie set a new record last year."
However, he resurfaced, prevailing in a crowded primary and fighting an uphill battle to win a second term. Later he joked: "I knew I was going to be re-elected when people started to greet me with all five fingers."
In his second term, he promoted the casino game in Atlantic City, but when he signed the bill in 1977, he warned the mafia to keep its "dirty hands" out of town. The mafiosi surprised by wiretapping in the 1960s had referred to the then fiscal Byrne as the "we can not buy".
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The Associated Press writes: "In a New York Post title Byrne was proclaimed" The man the mafia could not buy. "That slogan ended up on stickers that reminded voters in the era of Watergate that not all politicians were unscrupulous. "
Decades later, when the casinos of Atlantic City had problems, Bryne expressed his doubts about the 1977 law. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in 2014, he said that legalizing gambling in the city was "my biggest mistake "
Byrne's son, Tom Byrne, said Thursday that his father had suffered an infection in his lungs and had been "too weak" to fight it.
In a statement, the president of the New Jersey Assembly, Vincent Prieto, said of Byrne that "he always put the right thing ahead of politics, no matter how difficult the issue is" and that his "honor, ingenuity and courage … made him a model for all of us in an elected office to emulate. "