My political activity in these beginning years of my senior citizenhood involves consulting, media, and academia. This semester, I am teaching a new graduate political science course, “New Jersey Politics” at Monmouth University. Last semester, I taught an undergraduate political science course at Monmouth, “Environmental Policy”. I have found teaching both courses to be a labor of love.
Monmouth University is a wonderful institution of higher learning. My colleagues on the faculty and friends in the University administration have made Monmouth an ideal venue for me to transition from full time public servant to the world of academia. I also feel most fortunate to be at Monmouth at a time when the University’s reputation and status is rising rapidly under the dynamic leadership of President Paul G. Gaffney II.
How I came into the world of academia may be instructive to those who are still involved full-time in political life and are contemplating their futures after they leave the governmental realm.
My two decades of government service were a time of fulfillment and lifetime goal achievement. My service as Region 2 EPA Administrator in the administration of President George W. Bush constituted the attainment of my ultimate career objective, to wit, service in a high position in the administration of a President of the United States.
I stepped down as Regional Administrator the same day President Bush left office, January 20, 2009. That day, my son Neil said to me, “Dad, you’re like a retiring athlete. You had great success at Region 2 EPA – you’re like Ted Williams hitting a home run at his last turn at bat. Now it’s time for you to leave the playing field. Stay politically active, but never go back into government.” Neil was right.
Thus, my natural next step was into the worlds of academia and media.
As my readers know, I both write about sports and apply sports analogies to my political writing. I am similar to a retired ballplayer who no longer plays, but broadcasts and writes about the games and coaches players in development. I must say that I find political broadcasting (i.e. my columns and media appearances) and coaching (i.e. teaching undergraduates and graduates) just as exciting as playing the game of politics.
In teaching at Monmouth, I have developed a strong respect not only for the University’s administration and faculty, but also for its students. My experience at Monmouth reminds me of a famous saying of the great historic rabbi in Judea in the second century, Rabbi Yehuda haNasi: “I learned much from my teachers, more than that did I learn from my colleagues, but most of all from my students!”
Most of my Monmouth students have been millennials, members of Generation Y, born after 1980. This semester, I have made a surprising discovery: my Generation Y students love former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne!
In order to explain this, it is necessary to describe the nature of my course, New Jersey Politics. I have designated two required textbooks, New Jersey Politics and Government, by Barbara and the late Stephen Salmore and New Jersey’s Multiple Municipal Madness, by the late former New Jersey Assembly Speaker Alan Karcher.
The Salmore book is of special meaning to me, as Steve Salmore was both a mentor and close friend of mine. At Barbara’s request, I spoke at his memorial service. It was indeed a privilege for me and a way to honor a friend whom I regarded as a true scholar of New Jersey history and politics.
The students participate in both classroom and on-line discussions. Every week, I assign three questions on the class topic.
On both the midterm examination and in the classroom and online discussions, there has been discourse regarding the policies and performance of Governor Christie and his predecessors. Thus far, Governor Christie is faring quite well among my millennial students.
As for Christie’s predecessors, my millennial students have astonished me. Their favorite governor is Brendan Byrne!
Yet perhaps this should not have surprised me.
Virtually every day, I have the good fortune to have a telephone conversation with my dear friend Carl Golden. In my opinion, his place in New Jersey political history as its finest gubernatorial press secretary and director of communications is secure.
Carl and I often discuss both American and New Jersey history. In describing Brendan Byrne, Carl always notes that, “he succeeded in enacting three historic New Jersey firsts: the income tax, Atlantic City casino gambling, and the Pinelands legislation.”
That is how I described Brendan Byrne to my students. The assigned readings convinced most of my millennial students that he was New Jersey’s greatest post-war Governor. While I would have opted for Tom Kean, there certainly is a strong argument for Byrne. In fact, in my opinion, Brendan Byrne and Tom Kean indeed rank as New Jersey’s greatest 20th Century governors.
While Kean often deservedly gets this recognition, Byrne doesn’t seem to get the credit he deserves. I must compliment my Generation Y students in this regard. The various pundits and academics could learn from them. I certainly have!
As an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Brendan Byrne received the Distinguished Flying Cross and four Air Medals, proving himself to be a person of incomparable personal courage. In enacting the income tax and the Pinelands legislation, Brendan Byrne proved himself to be a profile in political courage as well.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and the Irish community of New Jersey can be most proud of Brendan Byrne. On April 1, 2011, God willing, Byrne will celebrate his 87th birthday. It is wonderful that he is still alive to receive the plaudits that are long overdue.
Brendan Byrne, you were a great governor. And my Generation Y students love you. So come visit my class any time!
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and eight federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission. He currently serves on the political science faculty of Monmouth University.