NEWARK – The presence of a beloved former anything in the world of politics invariably intensifies public scrutiny where it concerns that person’s successor, especially when that successor is currently in office.
So an Essex County favorite son, the 84-year old former Gov. Brendan Byrne standing beside Gov. Jon Corzine before a packed audience of county diehards today, created myriad opportunities for parallels.
On this day, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo’s unveiled the Gov. Brendan T. Byrne Plaza, honoring the former county prosecutor and governor with his own local monument.
"Because of everything he stood for," DiVincenzo said of Byrne, who served as governor from 1974-1982. "Because he stood for doing the right thing. Whether it was with (raising) the income tax or the Meadowlands, he always did the right thing."
Then DiVincenzo introduced Corzine, who would introduce Byrne.
The fact that Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex), another former governor, was also at the event, set up one more reassertion of a central comparison. For if Corzine has toiled with negligible success in the aftermath of Codey, he has consistently lacked the popularity of his immediate predessessor.
But Byrne – now the shining elder statesman – was also unpopular heading into his second term election in 1977, and that gave all three men: Byrne, Codey and Corzine, the opportunity to draw the same, hopeful connection.
"He accomplished so much, and his approval rating was 36% (as he headed into a re-election year)," Corzine said of Byrne. "I went a little above that (in a Quinnipiac poll last week), so I figure I’ve got a chance."
Codey riffed on he comparison in his remarks about Byrne.
"He ran for governor twice and both times he won in a landslide," Codey said of the man who calls Codey his protégé.
"Even though he was unpopular at the time, he did the right things – like Gov. Corzine does the right things – and the results came in overwhelmingly in his favor," Codey said. "He was unpopular, than he won."
Codey argued that Corzine has offended special interest groups in making budget cuts, and that the polls are "simply a moment in time."
"If you’re the governor, you get blamed for everything," said the former governor. "The fact that he presented a balanced budget this is remarkable in and of itself."