Tag Archive: Brendan Byrne

Quote of the Day: “It wasn’t the climate to re-elect anybody”

During a panel discussion of former Governors in Atlantic City at the League of Municipalities yesterday, Brendan Byrne had this blunt take on Jon Corzine’s candidacy:

“He should have withdrawn. It wasn’t the climate to re-elect anybody,” said former Democratic Gov. Brendan Byrne said to laughter at the panel discussion at the second day of the annual conference of municipal officials.

While I think it was an uphill climb from the start given the climate, I think the problems were complicated by another popular sentiment held by the panel, the fact that Jon Corzine just didn’t give voters a reason to vote for him. Ultimately, it was a losing combination, regardless of which factor you think played the largest role in that result.

Kean shills for Christie while Byrne debunks the spin

Check out this exchange from former Governors Kean and Byrne talking about the loan controversy and subsequent resignation of Michele Brown:

Q: Will the resignation of first assistant U.S. Attorney Michele Brown put to rest the unreported loan Chris Christie made to her, or does her resignation raise more questions?

BYRNE: I think it raises more questions. The Brown situation has been trivialized by Christie. Now this lady resigns you can’t trivialize it anymore.

KEAN: It’s sad. This is a public servant whose work has been praised by everybody from people serving now in the Corzine administration to people outside government. The fact that she felt she had to resign is sad. I think the governor – or maybe his campaign people – should be ashamed. The only people who are happy today are the crooks she helped put in jail. This was a case of taking politics one step too far.

BYRNE: Tom, you’re good at this. You take an issue that Christie created and make it the Democrats’ fault. That’s a successful formula, and you’re good at it.

KEAN: This is not a successful formula for anything. We need a good governor and good people in the prosecutor’s office. That Michele Brown was hounded out of office by unscrupulous campaign operatives because she sought a loan to save her home when her husband was out of a job is outrageous. Nobody has criticized her or her work except those convicted of major crimes.

BYRNE: There you go again, Tom, taking something Christie did and blaming the Democrats.

KEAN: Having compassion for a friend and co-worker and helping them save their home is something he should have done – and we would have done it also.

BYRNE: Yes, and reported it.

KEAN: I don’t think everyone knows you’re supposed to report interest on a loan to a friend. When he found that out he corrected it.

BYRNE: Are you just the honorary chairman of his campaign? You’re doing a good job.

Byrne is exactly right.  Christie created this issue by not reporting the loan and filing it in the first place. The issue wasn’t uncovered by the Democrats, it was first reported by NJN. Then the NY Times followed up with news that it wasn’t filed on ethics reports and the Star Ledger reported the lack of filing for tax purposes. And for those who want to say the media is biased, the facts laid out in these stories haven’t been disputed. Instead, Christie and his supporters are trying to deflect attention from this latest self inflicted wound. For Christie, the buck always stops with someone else because it’s one set of rules for him, another set for the rest of us.

Kean & Byrne discuss the Governor’s race

Here is a video version of the Kean-Byrne dialogue from NJ Voices over at the Star Ledger where the former Governors discuss the upcoming race.  Editor Fran Wood led the discussion:

Byrne says Jon Corzine should stay in office. “This is a governor who is getting us through the shoals of tough economic times,” he says.

Kean disagrees: “Jon Corzine is a nice guy. But four years is enough.”

They went back and forth on the borrowing that has been done and who was responsible for it with Byrne pointing to the Whitman administration for their share of the blame. Byrne talked about the similarities to his own re-election situation back in 1977. Here’s the video:

Byrne’s strategy in the 1977 comeback

The 1977 re-election campaign by Brendan Byrne has been held up as a cause for hope for the Corzine campaign. On Wednesday, I looked at the 1977 New Jersey polls which describe Byrne’s comeback over Raymond Bateman. Today I will look at the campaign, as described at the time in the newspapers. As for me, I was small boy in New York rooting for the Thurman Munson and the rest of the Yankees, so this really is based on what the New York Times reporters said.

Each campaign was limited to $1.5 million, and spent $1.3 million on TV and radio ads. There were at least nine(!) debates during the hard-fought campaign. Byrne used the advantage of incumbency, with bill signings held all over the state and his cabinet members making numerous appearances. President Carter made a trip to help him. There was an attack on Byrne over a possibly mob-connected appointment that actually backfired among Italian-Americans. Both candidates called the other names. But at the end of the day, I think the entire campaign came down to the income tax and its future. The new income tax was scheduled to expire in 1978, so this was legitimately the key question. The income tax and Byrne started off extremely unpopular — and he had even promised no income tax in his first campaign. So how did Byrne turn it all around in October? A September 11, 1977 New York Times article laid out the Byrne strategy:

The Governor’s campaign strategy will be to strip the “no tax candidate” from Mr. Bateman and attempt to portray him as advocating an even more onerous alternative to the income-tax progrm.

How did this strategy succeed? First, the income tax actually worked for its stated purpose. Property taxpayers began to get rebate checks in the fall. This was an especially good deal for people who worked in New York and Pennsylvania, since they didn’t owe any income tax to New Jersey but still got rebate checks. Not only were there rebate checks, but the papers reported that property taxes did go down in many towns.

Second, Bateman was drawn into presenting his own plan. If you wonder why politicians evade presenting their own plan (Hi Chris Christie!), this could be a textbook case explaining why. The Republican plan involved improving state government, cutting some jobs, and — if necessary — increasing the sales tax. It was widely rejected — not only by Democrats but newspaper editorial boards — as unrealistic. It seemed pretty obvious that this kind of improving government could not replace the revenue from the income tax. Byrne was able to call the plan “dishonest” and attack Bateman for lying, and went very aggressively after him. In the first debate, Byrne said Bateman didn’t have “guts” and even “doesn’t fool the kids in fourth grade.” Bateman admitted in debates that he might need to raise the sales tax. So, Bateman found himself in the position that the anti-tax candidate would raise your sales tax and/or your property tax. Polls showed that voters didn’t want an income tax, but they thought it was here to stay and was better than a sales tax increase.  The Wall Street Journal, in a bitter October 31 editorial, complained that this was unfair, because they (incorrectly) thought the income tax would not possibly be renewed:

Thus, whoever is elected will have the same revenue problem.  But only Mr. Bateman thought to stick his neck out, and now Gov. Byrne is raging up and down the state about how Raymond Bateman is planning to raise sales taxes.

…Can democracy survive in New Jersey?

It survived and Byrne won by making an unpopular tax the lesser of two evils. More generally, I think Bateman failed to give New Jerseyans a strong reason to vote for him. Democrats won the battle of who would run the government better.  

Polls and the 1977 Democratic Comeback

Governor Jon Corzine’s poor showing in 2009 polls has led many observers think of the great 1977 come-back campaign of Governor Brendan Byrne. Don’t forget that this was another age, but a recognizable one: The big issue was the new income tax (of 2.0 to 2.5%) , the related new property tax rebate checks that arrived just in time for the election season, and a controversial suggestion that the sales tax be raised (above 5%) instead. Public financing was a new experiment, and observers were impressed by the fact that both campaigns spent a million dollars. The Giants had just moved to New Jersey — but didn’t change their name! Both candidates promised a New Jersey television station. Democrats outnumbered Republicans 2-1 in registrations, but New Jersey had gone for Republican Gerald Ford in 1976. The New York Times observed the campaign was the first to make major use of “electronic media,” meaning radio and television ads.  

If you were around then, you may remember Bateman’s lead in the polls, which was mentioned nearly every day in the papers, but in fact there were only six independent polls matching up Byrne and Bateman in the entire campaign. That’s one fewer than we have already have for 2009. Still, as we’ll see below, there’s good evidence Byrne really did start way behind.

The Winter (and Spring) of New Jersey’s Discontent

January and April polls by Eagleton-Rutgers were brutal for Governor Byrne, with more than 70% of adults disapproving of his performance.  

Month Good/Excellent Fair/Poor
Jan. 22 71
Apr 17 75

Various Democrats told reporters that their internal polls confirmed these numbers. Nevertheless, the governor decided to run for re-election. His weakness attracted eleven other candidates on the ballot, which oddly enough allowed him to win the June primary despite only getting 32% of the vote. Raymond Bateman easily took the Republican nomination, beating future governor Tom Kean.  

The Fall Campaign

The campaign featured independent polls sponsored by Eagleton-Rutgers, Gannett, and the New York Times/Channel 2.  Early polls also included three-way results, but independent candidate Anthony Imperiale dropped out by September 19 in order to not hurt Bateman, so I haven’t listed them.  (Imperiale had even claimed he was ahead of Byrne in his own internal polls only a few weeks before, but I don’t think anyone should take that seriously.)  I have listed both registered voters and Byrne started out ten points behind in August — or worse if you believe the likely voter screen —  and was about the same in late September.  Byrne pulled ahead in October and won comfortably.  My table includes two leaked internal polls that only gave margins, and for one of the Gannett polls I also only have the margins.  

Date Type Byrne Bateman Lead Sponsor
18-29 July RV 37 47 -10 Eagleton-Rutgers
18-29 July LV 36 53 -17 Eagleton-Rutgers
20-27 Sep RV 39 46 -7 Eagleton-Rutgers
Late Sep ? ? ? -12 Gannett
mid Oct ? ? ? -5 Republican Internal
mid Oct ? ? ? -5 Democratic Internal
15-19 Oct RV 40 40 0 NYT/Channel 2
15-19 Oct LV 43 43 0 NYT/Channel 2
29-30 Oct ? 43 42 +1 Gannett
24 Oct – 1 Nov RV 44 36 +8 Eagleton-Rutgers

1977 Polls

On November 8, Byrne crushed Bateman, winning 54.5% to 40.9% (if I got the right numbers), which means the incredible movement upwards for Byrne in October continued during the first week of November. Plainly Byrne got the votes of many people who had thought he did only a fair job, whch is usually considered “disapproval.”  Bateman’s support never reached 50% — unless you believe the July “most likely to vote” screen — and instead slowly slipped during the campaign, which featured heavy ads, a Presidential visit, and multiple debates.  I’ll discuss in a later article what journalists said at the time to explain why Democrats and independents came home to Byrne in the end.  

The data is all gathered from 1977 articles in the New York Times.  I’d like to give special thanks to the late reporter Joseph F. Sullivan, whose coverage was gripping even across the divide of three decades.

Clinton to pick up 2 more NJ superdelegates?

Hillary Clinton is slated to pick up two additional unpledged add-on delegates when the Democratic State Committee meets later this week to choose add-on and alternate delegates. Sources say that former Governors Brendan Byrne and Jim Florio will be chosen as the two add-on superdelegates. According to a Clinton press release, both endorsed Hillary Clinton last year. Clinton defeated Obama in the New Jersey primary by 54%-44%.