Lawmakers honor former N.J. Gov. and U.S. Rep. James Florio

An up-close photo of James Florio.

File photo: Former Governor of New Jersey, Jim Florio, stands in the Assembly chamber of the Statehouse during an event Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in Trenton, N.J. Florio, who narrowly lost his re-election bid in 1993 died Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022. He was 85. His law partner Doug Steinhardt and current Gov. Phil Murphy confirmed Florio died in statements on Monday. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle spoke out Monday to honor Jim Florio.

The former New Jersey Governor and U.S. Representative for Camden County died of heart failure Sunday at the age of 85. The democrat served as Governor from 1990 to 1994, before doing eight terms in the House of Representatives.

His law partner Doug Steinhardt and current New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy confirmed Florio died in statements on Monday.

“Governor Florio was a fighter who never backed down. He was a leader who cared more about the future of New Jersey than his own political fortunes,” Murphy, a fellow Democrat, said in a statement.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Florio was a longtime public servant who held numerous posts on the local, county, state and federal levels.

A Democrat, he made three unsuccessful runs for the governor before finally succeeding in 1989, when he defeated Republican Jim Courter and became the first Italian-American to serve as the state’s chief executive.

Florio drew sharp criticism in 1990 when he pushed a $2.8 billion tax increase through the state Legislature that extended a sales tax to, among other things, toilet paper. It spawned massive voter resentment and spurred the formation of Hands Across New Jersey, an anti-tax grass roots group that used rolls of toilet paper as its symbol.

Florio was ousted after one term by Republican Christie Whitman, who tapped into voter anger over the tax hike and won the race by about 26,000 votes.

Before becoming governor, Florio served four years in the state Assembly and 15 years in the House of Representatives. In 2000, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, losing to investment banker Jon Corzine in one of the most expensive Senate primaries in history.

Corzine went on to win the Senate seat that year and held it until he won the governor’s office in 2005.

Long after he left office, Florio continued to be an active voice and weighed in on several issues. He was a regular in the halls of the statehouse during legislative sessions.

State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they were saddened by his death.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Passaic) said she got her start working in politics as an assistant counsel in Florio’s administration.

“They hired me knowing I was a Republican from North Jersey at the time. And that didn’t matter,” Corrado said. I was given the opportunity to work for him. And I think that’s something people remember about him that he truly was a gentleman”

In February 2015, Florio and three other former New Jersey governors urged the state senate to delay a vote on Gov. Chris Christie’s nominee for a southern New Jersey panel that oversees a million-acre pine reserve. The ex-governors claimed the nomination would “undermine the independence” of the commission, but the senate eventually approved the nominee for the job.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Florio attended Trenton State College (now known as The College of New Jersey) and graduated from the Rutgers School of Law in 1967. He also served as an officer in the Navy from 1955 to 1958 and continued as a reservist until 1975, eventually achieving the rank of lieutenant commander.

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal