JERSEY CITY – Brendan Byrne always said he wanted to be buried in Hudson County so he could keep voting, a crackling jab at the peninsular county’s reputation for retreading dead people to pack the ranks of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO); and today – in good-natured repayment – they granted the late Governor’s wish by consecrating some of his ashes at Healy’s Tavern.
Former Governor Jim McGreevey presided over the ceremony outside the bar owned by former Mayor Jerry Healy as Governor Byrne’s widow, Ruthi, waded with aplomb into the Irish tough guy crowd, which included Tom Barrett and Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr.
McGreevey was the prime mover of the event, set against the backdrop of a new battlefront in the craggy North Jersey county, attended by Essex Freeholder Brendan Gill, Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis, state Senator Sandy Cunningham, numerous dignitaries, and handfuls of other Hudson diehards.
The bar buzz all centered around who’s going to replace Hudson County Tom DeGise if state Senator Brian Stack (D-33) and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop have their way next year and turn him out of county government headquarters just a short distance from this glazed over St. Patrick’s Day destination.
“It’s gonna be Fulop,” a source affirmed under an Irish cap.
“Are you kidding?” snapped another. “It’s gonna be Junior Maldonado. Two white dudes can’t remove a white dude and supplant him with a white dude.”
On the heels of that remark, someone floated the name of Fulop COS Mark Albiez.
“Doesn’t live here,” someone said dismissively, just as a labor guy in a white knit sweater walked up to the bar sporting a button that said “Gangemi ’57” on it.
“My favorite mayor,” he announced. “And he didn’t even live here. He was an Italian national, serving as the mayor of Jersey City.”
The names poured forth as beer flowed.
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji.
“No, no, no,” someone roared. “Raj is a brilliant legislator, not an executive.”
“I say DeGise sticks it out,” a meek little Irish voice piped up from the bar and everyone looked over at him in drunken bewilderment.
No punches were thrown.
Outside, at McGreevy’s prodding, everyone’s attentions turned solemnly to Governor Byrne.
“It’s a great honor for Healy’s Tavern and Jersey City really to have some of Brendan’s remains kept here,” said Healy. “He was such a wonderful man and a great governor; and he had a longstanding joke that I’m sure all of you heard, that he wanted to be buried in Hudson County so he could stay active in politics, so he’s getting his wish.”
Ruthi Byrne said of her late husband, “St. Patrick’s Day was a big day for him. He loved being Irish. It was written all over his face. He had a green jacket and pants and I just cringed when he’d wear them. He was in love with his Irish heritage. I know he’s here, thanks to Jim McGreevey.”
McGreevey led the reading of the Irish Blessing and a Soldier’s Song.
“May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
A grand honorary at this year’s annual one block St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Gill paid tribute to Ruthi Byrne and her late husband.
“It’s great to be here,” Gill said. “As a young man – Murphy, McGreevey, Healy – these were names you looked up to as an Irish American. But I think it’s safe to say there was one name we all looked up to, and that was the Honorable Brendan Byrne.”
They marched in honor of the Irish, the ashes of Governor Byrne laid to rest, and his memory reanimated in an appropriately war-footed Hudson, that politically rugged county he long loved to tease.