James Florio, a former congressman from South Jersey who served one term as governor in the 1990s, died Sunday night at age 85.
His law partner, Douglas Steinhardt, announced Florio’s death on Twitter.
Florio, a Democrat, was governor from 1990 to 1994 after serving eight terms representing the 1st congressional district in the House of Representatives.
“Gov. Florio passed away last night comforted by family & friends,” Steinhardt wrote on Twitter. “Our partnership was a constant reminder to me that [people] can disagree on fundamental tenets of gov’t & politics, but still be civil & still be friends. I will miss him.” Steinhardt is a former chairman of the state Republican Party.
A 2014 New Jersey Hall of Fame inductee, Florio was known for taking on big fights, from environmental issues such as the cleanup of toxic waste sites in New Jersey to stricter gun laws.
He ran for governor twice unsuccessfully (1977 and 1981) before finally winning the 1989 race over Republican congressman Jim Courter to succeed Gov. Tom Kean.
Almost immediately after taking office, Florio signed a $2.8 billion tax increase to help low-income school districts and locked horns with the National Rifle Association (NRA) as he proposed some of the strictest gun laws in the nation at that point, including an assault weapons ban.
The tax hike led to a Republican revolt, electoral gains for the GOP, as well as a tanking of Florio’s approval rating. Despite the headwinds, Florio managed to nearly defeat Christine Todd Whitman in the 1993 election, narrowly losing the chance for a second term.
Since the news of his passing broke, remembrances and tributes poured in from New Jersey leaders on both sides of the aisle.
Gov. Phil Murphy praised Florio as a fighter who never backed down.
“He was a leader who cared more about the future of New Jersey than his own political fortunes,” said Murphy.
“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,” Murphy continued. “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.”
Former Gov. Chris Christie tweeted a remembrance Monday morning.
“I am quite sad this morning to hear about the passing of Governor Jim Florio,” Christie wrote. “During my time as Governor we spoke frequently and his advice was always thoughtful. We often disagreed philosophically on the role of government but he was always civil & respectful. I will miss him.”
“Gov. Florio was not afraid of a challenge and took on big issues, courageously,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District. “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.”
New Jersey Business & Industry Association President and CEO Michele Siekerka said Florio was dedicated to public service and the great state of New Jersey, describing him as someone who brought people together to 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 at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection,” said Siekerka. “He was also a passionate advocate for education in the state and for New Jersey businesses.”
Florio’s colleague Steinhardt, who added that Florio was the consummate gentleman, was joined by the firm’s partners in their tributes.
“Jim was a great public servant and leader who cared deeply about people and the issues that impacted them,” said Mike Perucci, who co-founded Florio Perruci Steinhardt Cappelli Tipton & Taylo with Florio. Florio was chair of the firm’s Environmental Group and Government and Regulatory Affairs Group.
“He will be missed by all of us at the firm and we will carry on his legacy through advocacy, hard work, and compassion. Personally speaking, Jim was a great friend and business partner. While his passing deeply saddens me, I am honored to have known him and his family, and my thoughts and prayers are with them during this time,” Perucci added.
“Coming to a place with Governor Florio’s name on the door has been a great source of pride for the attorneys and staff of the firm,” said Brian Tipton, managing partner of the firm. “That will not change because Jim was honored and respected by all. He was always the first to help a client or colleague or to mentor a young lawyer.”
“Gov. Florio inspired me and many others to get involved in public service,” said Partner Lou Cappelli. “It was an honor and a privilege to wind up actually working with him. I will forever miss his friendship and guidance.”
Murphy added, “Tammy and I send our heartfelt thoughts to Lucinda, Jim’s children, and all who loved him. Our state has lost a good man, and later this morning I will sign an executive order directing our flags to fly at half-staff in his honor.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:07 a.m. and 1:54 p.m. ET on Sept. 26, 2022, to include additional remembrances and condolences on the occasion of former Gov. James Florio’s death.