Dear Governor-elect Murphy:
Congratulations on your victory. The challenges you face are daunting, to say the least. Yet your sense of optimism is both reassuring to the electorate and essential to maintaining public confidence. New Jerseyans of all political stripes wish you well and pray for your success.
The most important quality for a governor’s success is knowledge of the history of New Jersey and its political culture. No governor in my lifetime possessed this quality more than Tom Kean, the most successful governor of the past century.
So while your transition team considers programmatic approaches to issues facing the Garden State, your time during the transition would be best spent in reading books that will increase your knowledge of New Jersey history and political culture. This will enable you also to refine and enhance your vision for the next four years.
Accordingly, in this regard, I recommend the following five books. I am confident that you can finish all five before the inauguration.
New Jersey Politics and Government: The Suburbs Come of Age
By Barbara G. Salmore and Stephen A. Salmore
This is THE definitive must-read comprehensive book on New Jersey government and politics. It masterfully covers the roles of the various governmental entities, political parties, and special interest groups.
The Salmores for me will always be New Jersey’s first family of political academia. The late Stephen, a Republican, was a professor at Rutgers, the director of the Eagleton Poll, and a much sought-after consultant for Republican political campaigns. Barbara, a Democrat, was a highly respected political science professor at Drew University.
A personal note: For me, Steve Salmore was a most wise mentor and beloved friend. When Barbara asked me to give a eulogy at his memorial service, it was one of the highest honors I received in my years of public service.
New Jersey’s Multiple Municipal Madness
By Alan J. Karcher
The late Alan Karcher’s incomparable skills in the arenas of politics, policy, and law enabled him to be a top-flight lawyer, an erudite academic, and as Speaker of the Assembly, one of the greatest legislative leaders in the history of New Jersey. A Democrat, he was most highly respected by political figures of both parties. The title of this book describes New Jersey’s leading continuing institutional problem, and Karcher brilliantly analyzes the history of the issue and provides possible solutions.
The next three books are highly acclaimed biographies of three of New Jersey’s greatest governors: Democrats Brendan Byrne and the late Richard Hughes, and Republican Tom Kean.
The Life and Times of Richard J. Hughes: The Politics of Civility
By John B. Wefing
John Wefing, a most personable and brilliant professor of law at Seton Hall University School of Law, is indeed a New Jersey treasure: a magnificent legal mind and an incisive political analyst with excellent communication skills.
Dick Hughes was a unique figure in New Jersey politics: a great governor and an outstanding Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Wefing chronicles his role in both pursuits most admirably while also describing vividly the personality that made Dick Hughes a beloved figure in both political parties.
New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne: The Man Who Couldn’t Be Bought
By Donald Linky
Your fellow Democrat, Brendan Byrne, like you, was elected and took office at a time of grave national and state crisis. He overcame the obstacles in his path, and he emerged with three landmark accomplishments: 1) The first state income tax; 2) the Pinelands protection legislation; and 3) the enabling legislation for the establishment and governance of gambling in Atlantic City.
Donald Linky, who served under Byrne as Counsel to the Governor and director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Planning, has authored an excellent personal and political biography of a governor who was often reviled during his administration but who is now recognized universally as one of New Jersey’s great governors. Two words emerge from Linky’s book as the major attributes of Governor Byrne: Ethics and Courage. You will need both in great abundance in order to resist the pressures of state political power players.
Governor-elect Murphy, Brendan Byrne is a very good role model for you.
Governor Tom Kean: From the New Jersey Statehouse to the 9-11 Commission
By Alvin S. Felzenberg
Without question, Al Felzenberg has been the New Jersey Republican Party’s intellectual in residence for nearly four decades. He served under Tom Kean in both his capacities as governor of New Jersey and as Chair of the 9- 11 Commission.
Although he has been close to his subject and has served under him, Felzenberg was able to write an excellent book on Kean that is a superb in-depth political biography, rather than mere hagiography. In this regard, this book reminds me of the renowned political biography, Kennedy, by Theodore Sorenson.
During my years as an undergraduate at Northwestern University, I had the opportunity to study history under the tutelage of some of the finest professors in the Western world. I developed a preference for interpretive history, as distinguished from mere narrative history. Interpretive history is best written by academics, as opposed to journalists.
Felzenberg has a well-deserved reputation as a superb academic, having taught at the leading universities in America. Accordingly, it is not surprising that the New York Times recently featured his new book, A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley, Jr. as its lead work in it Sunday Book Review Section.
This biography of Kean is unique in that its author, Al Felzenberg, is both an accomplished academic and a participant in the history he narrates and interprets. That makes this book a classic in New Jersey interpretive history that will long endure.
I am sure, Governor-elect Murphy, that you will approach your inauguration with an enhanced sense of your historical role and purpose as a result of reading these five books. May your administration be most successful.
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.