Sweeney’s Awkward Brendan Byrne Tribute

Former Governor Brendan Byrne, the elder statesman of NJ politics, died last week in Livingston, NJ. He was 93 years old. The news triggered a torrent of tributes from fellow politcos from both parties. Some were quite profound. Others a tad obsequious.

Then there was NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney’s ill-conceived Twitter tribute, rife with hypocrisy and wholly lacking in self-awareness.

Brendan Byrne: 1924-2018

Like many of his colleagues Sweeney marked the ex-governor’s passing by highlighting Byrne’s legacy of Twitter. Sweeney praised Byrne for bringing casino gambling to NJ and for his efforts to preserve our Pinelands. In my world, gambling on gambling is a bad idea. That’s no moral judgement, I’m just surrendering to the math.

But we’ll save that debate for another day out of respect for the deceased.

For now, we join Sweeney to reflect on Gov. Byrne’s immense, enduring commitment to our Pinelands National Reserve which counts the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer, home of 17 trillion gallons of the purist water in the US, among its many natural treasures.

“Brendan Byrne was truly the father of the Pinelands,” said Carlton Montgomery, director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance.

And that’s one helluva legacy: 1.1 million acres of unspoiled, heavily-forrested land stretching across 7 counties in southern NJ.

But if  Sweeney had his way, our Pinelands, one of America’s most pristine natural treasures will be criss-crossed with oil- and gas pipelines. Which is why Sweeney shouting out Byrne’s environmental legacy left us gobsmacked.

“Senator Sweeney’s support for the oil and gas industry is a direct threat to the Pinelands, and to a sustainable future for New Jersey,” Food & Water Watch organizer Lena Smith told InsiderNJ. “He is vocally supportive of the dirty fracked gas pipelines through the Pinelands and is twisting the arms of New Jersey’s elected officials to clear the way for these pipelines to be built.”

Arm Twisting

When Gov Byrne signed the Pinelands Protection Act in 1979, that also created the Pinelands Commission and Comprehensive Management Plan. The fifteen-member Pinelands Commission includes seven gubernatorial picks. Another seven commissioners are chosen by Freeholders in the NJ counties that contain the Pinelands, incidentally each under the thrall of Sweeney and his puppet-masters.

The fifteenth member is a federal appointment, chosen by the Department of Interior. Trump’s Department of Interior.

From Day 1, the Pinelands Commission rebuffed repeated efforts to develop fossil fuel infrastructure. Then, in 2014, the Commission rejected a pipeline proposal by a single vote. The following year, 2015, marked the arrival of pro-pipeline commissioner Robert Barr, an appointee of Governor Chris Christie.

Barr’s controversial appointment was boosted by Sweeney who packed the relevant committee with pro-pipeline votes to ensure Barr’s confirmation. Imagine the shock and horror when enviros showed up for Barr’s confirmation hearings to see Sweeney toady Sen. Jeff Van Drew subbing for Senator Ray Lesniak, a notorious environmentalist.

Philly Inquirer: “Jaclyn Rhoades, assistant director of the advocacy group Pinelands Preservation Alliance, said it appeared the vote on Barr’s nomination was scheduled because Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who opposed Barr’s nomination, was on vacation in Florida.”

InsiderNJ reached out to Lesniak for belated reaction to this rotten turn-of-events from 3 years ago. All suddenly made relevant with Sweeney’s curious tribute to Brendan Byrne’s environmental legacy.

Is that how it really happened?!

“Absolutely,” Senate Lesniak told InsiderNJ. “The meeting was noticed while I was on vacation and when I took an earlier flight and called that I would make it I was told I had already been substituted on the committee.”

More Arm Twisting

Subsequent pro-pipeline appointments went similarly.

“Some of the county commissioners were also replaced after the 2014 vote,” Ms Smith told InsiderNJ.  “Jane Jannarone and Joe Chila (both pro-pipeline) are new since the 2014 vote, they’re Cumberland and Gloucester commissioners. Convenient that those are part of Sweeney’s district?” she added rhetorically.

In conclusion: NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney has long toiled to undermine the Pinelands Commission and their mission. Stacking the lineup with lapdogs like Jane Jannarone and Joe Chila is the latest example of Sweeney’s commitment to defile the Pinelands with fossil fuel infrastructure.

That’s what made Sweeney’s Pinelands reference so hypocritical. He literally praises Byrne’s environmental legacy while also working to dismantle it. Wholly lacking in self-awareness, as previously mentioned.

A legacy with fighting for

“Governor Byrne’s legacy speaks for itself. It dwarfs any other governor I served under,” Lesniak told InsiderNJ when asked about Brendan Byrne’s impact in the state of NJ.

We honor Governor Brendan Byrne by fighting to keep our Pinelands impeccable. If Steve Sweeney had his way, there’d be pipelines and heavily subsidized nuke plants all over New Jersey.

Our best tribute to the late Governor is to ensure Steve Sweeney never gets his wish.


Jay Lassiter is a longtime political gadfly best known for reforming NJ’s retrograde cannabis laws. When he’s not excoriating legislators for doing dumb stuff, he’s on Twitter. Jay advocated for the environment for selfish reasons. He simply likes clean water. 


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One response to “Sweeney’s Awkward Brendan Byrne Tribute”

  1. So glad you wrote this, and with a hook to grab lots of attention. Governor Murphy has a golden opportunity to call upon the state to rededicate ourselves to the protection of the Pinelands in honor of Brendan Byrne. But he’s got to figure out a way to work with the Senate, or the appointments will be stuck.

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