Remembering Florio: Political, business leaders pay respects

Gov. Phil Murphy sang the praises of one of his predecessors — calling former Gov. Jim Florio “a fighter who never backed down” — before signing an executive order directly all flags at state buildings be flown at half-staff in his honor.

Florio, who served as governor from 1990-94, died Sunday night. He was 85.

Murphy noted how Florio was a champion for the environment and for more stringent gun laws, two issues near and dear to Murphy.

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“He was a leader who cared more about the future of New Jersey than his own political fortunes,” Murphy said in a statement. “And he was also a friend whose kind counsel was invaluable to me and countless others across our state.

“Our communities are cleaner today because of the environmental efforts he championed in Congress. And our streets are safer today because of his dogged effort to enact and defend our state’s assault-weapons ban, which remains the law to this day. More than anything, Gov. Florio showed that legacies are built by doing the right things.”

Statements of acknowledgement for Florio by numerous people and organizations were released all day Monday. Here are just a few:

Christine Todd Whitman, the former governor who defeated Florio in 1993: “Jim Florio was an American patriot who put principles first. He stood by his convictions no matter what the cost, and I am glad we got to know one another better after he left office. I will always respect the service and dedication he showed to the people of New Jersey.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.): “(He) was a tremendous leader in our state and in the Democratic Party. From his time in the state Legislature to congressman and then governor, he led with intellect, passion and dedication for New Jersey’s working families.

“His work on issues ranging from education, transportation and the environment has had meaningful impacts on families and communities across the nation. And it’s because of his Superfund Law, which he authored as a congressman, that we are able to clean up hazardous waste sites here in New Jersey and throughout America.

“I appreciate the many years that I had the privilege to work alongside Gov. Florio. And I know, because of his decades of public service, New Jerseyans and Americans will benefit for generations to come.”

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge): “Gov. Florio was not afraid of a challenge and took on big issues, courageously. Proud to call him a friend, today we honor his life and legacy, marked by a storied career in public service and a longstanding commitment to New Jersey in the decades after. Whether permanently protecting the Pinelands, driving down auto insurance rates or enacting stricter gun safety laws, Gov. Florio’s legislative record left an indelible mark on New Jerseyans.”

Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees): “Gov. Florio was a good man who will be remembered for his staunch commitment to the people of New Jersey. He leaves behind a distinguished legacy of fighting to improve the lives of New Jersey residents. Whether championing environment and education issues or keeping our streets safe with common-sense gun safety laws, Gov. Florio’s dedication to public service made New Jersey a better place to live. He will be missed.”

Kathryn Foster, president, The College of New Jersey, where Florio was a 1962 graduate, magna cum laude: “Gov. Florio was ahead of his time with his commitment to social justice, equity and protecting the environment, among other issues. His vision, tenacity and tireless work for the citizens of our state and country during his three decades in public office should serve as an inspiration for college students for generations to come.”

Michele Siekerka, CEO, New Jersey Business & Industry Association: “Gov. Florio was wholly dedicated to public service and the great state of New Jersey, and someone who always worked to bring people together and solve problems.

“He was a champion for the environment, and a strong supporter of the Superfund program, and I have fond memories of working with him while working at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. He was also a passionate advocate for education in the state and for New Jersey businesses.”

Linda Schwimmer, CEO, New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute: “At the Quality Institute, we are saddened by the passing of Gov. Jim Florio, who joined our board in 2007 and contributed valuable insights to our mission to advance health care safety, quality and affordability. Gov. Florio worked passionately to end gun violence, and was among the first to recognize that gun violence must be viewed as a public health issue. He was also the first chair of the Quality Institute’s Mayors Wellness Campaign. Gov. Florio was a man of immense integrity, warmth, and wit — and we will miss him.”

Cathy Bennett, CEO, New Jersey Hospital Association: “Gov. Florio has had an indelible impact on the health and safety of New Jersey communities. From his tenacious work on the environment to his courageous leadership on controlling assault weapons, Gov. Florio helped illuminate social issues that impact health. It may be impossible to quantify the number of lives saved and illnesses averted by his vision, but we know his efforts continue to have a lasting effect on New Jerseyans’ well-being.”

George Zoffinger, chairman, New Brunswick Development Corp.: “As someone who worked closely with Jim on economic issues, I can say that he always based decisions on what he thought was right and best for the state, regardless of the political impact. We could use more leaders like him today. He was also my friend. He will be missed.”

Dave Rible, executive director, Utility & Transportation Contractors Association: “Gov. Florio is the embodiment of what it means to be a public servant. As an assemblyman, congressman and governor, he fought tirelessly for the causes he believed in, even when it was politically unpopular. Above all, he served with grace and dignity and leaves behind an amazing legacy of public service.

“I consider myself fortunate to have had the privilege of interacting with Gov. Florio during my time in the Legislature. Even as a new legislator from the opposite party, he always treated me with kindness and respect that is too often lacking in today’s political environment.”

Laura Matos, partner, MAD Global Strategy Group: “Saddened by the tremendous loss of Gov. Jim Florio. I was proud to serve as an intern in his office when I was in high school, and I am even more proud to help preserve his legacy as chair of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission.”