This week’s final session of the current New Jersey Senate will mark the departure of Senator Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) and completion of his thirty year legislative career. He began his legislative tenure with four years as a member of the New Jersey Assembly (1988-1992), followed by twenty-six years as a New Jersey Senator (1992-2018). It has been a career of most distinguished service and achievement.
Note that I refer in this column to the completion of the legislative career of Joe Kyrillos. I believe that his political career is far from over. As a senior statesman, his political and policy advice will be highly sought from players in both political parties. And I hope that his friend, our new Governor, Phil Murphy will reach out to him often in an effort to establish bipartisan cooperation.
There are four elements that have characterized the years of legislative service of Joe Kyrillos: 1) Policy insight; 2) Political acumen; 3) Unimpeachable ethics and integrity; and 4) Fundamental decency.
In terms of policy, Kyrillos made an historic fundamental impact in the area of economic development, most notably, his prime sponsorship of the legislation which in 1996 created the Business Employment Incentive Plan (BEIP). This revenue neutral incentive program, together with Governor Christie Whitman’s tax cuts, was responsible for the remarkable economic recovery of New Jersey in the 1990s.
Yet Kyrillos was not limited to economic development in terms of his legislative expertise. He was the prime sponsor of a constitutional amendment in 1992 that would have guaranteed substantial state education aid to suburban New Jersey school districts while ensuring that urban districts were sufficiently funded to deal with their special needs. When it came to education issues, Kyrillos was a continuing desired presence at the table both in terms of policy objectives and legislative passage strategy.
It was his political acumen that made Joe Kyrillos a vital, yet unselfish, player in the passage of legislation where he was not a prime sponsor. This was particularly true in areas where bipartisan cooperation was essential for legislative passage. Two examples of Kyrillos playing a crucial bipartisan role in passage of landmark historic legislation are: 1) the market based auto insurance reforms proposed by former Governor Jim McGreevey; and 2) the Sarlo/Oroho legislation, which increased the state gas tax to ensure sufficient funding for transportation infrastructure while simultaneously providing massive tax relief for retirees.
His role in the passage of the McGreevey auto insurance reforms was remarkable in view of the fact that it took place while he was serving as Chair of the New Jersey Republican State Committee. That was typical of Joe Kyrillos. To Democrats, he was a formidable and effective political adversary, but never a personal enemy. He was indeed a senator who put his country and state over party.
He took on the thankless role of state GOP chair in 2001 at a time of bitter division within the party along both personal and ideological lines. From 2001 through 2004, Joe Kyrillos was the glue that held the New Jersey Republican Party together. He was a person respected within the inner councils of the administration of George W. Bush and by other state GOP party chairs throughout the nation.
In a state where scandals seem to literally surround key elected officials of both political parties, Joe Kyrillos has been a rarity. There never has been even a hint of any ethical or legal misfeasance or malfeasance on his part. He did not possess a scintilla of racial or ethnic prejudice. Both his ethics and integrity have always been impeccable.
Perhaps the defining characteristic of Joe Kyrillos, however, is his fundamental decency. This is characterized by two aspects of the Kyrillos persona: 1) a political civility which seems to be vanishing from Trenton; and 2) loyalty to both constituents and individuals of all social and economic strata. This sense of loyalty was not motivated by personal self-interest on Joe’s part but instead by a genuine sense of caring and concern.
Joe Kyrillos and his wife, Susan are magnificent parents and concerned and active citizens of their community and state. They are role models for a new generation of political and governmental players.
Joe will now be pursuing his next primary career: business and economic development consulting. His clients will be in good hands.
We in New Jersey have benefitted from the outstanding public service and political involvement of Joe Kyrillos over the past three decades. If we are fortunate, we will continue to be the beneficiaries of his wise political and policy advice and counsel for decades to come. On a personal level, I wish all the best for my good friends for twenty-five years, Joe and Susan Kyrillos and their children and pray that they be blessed with all the good things life has to offer.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman