Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to the New Jersey statehouse on April 18, 2005 was recalled with great fondness today by former Gov. Richard J. Codey.
Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union who helped end the Cold War, died on Tuesday at age 91.
His visit to Trenton came 14 years after presidency ended.
“I liked him very, very much,” Codey said. “He was a good man and we got along well.”
Gorbachev, the former chairman of the Supreme Soviet, marveled at Codey’s ability to run the executive and legislatve branches of New Jersey state government simultaneously. Codey had become governor after James E. McGreevey resigned but under the constitutional line of succession at the time, he kept his Senate post.
“I was still also serving as Senate President at that time, and, before our meeting, he asked about ‘all of that power in one set of hands,’” Codey said. “After we met, he noted that he thought I was somewhat like him, in that I was ‘quite a character, a natural person.”
“That was the same opinion I had of him, and I am thankful I had the opportunity to get to know him,” stated Codey.
After his departure from Trenton, Gorbachev travelled to South Orange, where he had a paid speaking engagement at Seton Hall University.
“I joked with him about getting $90,000 from a Catholic school. Normally they are the ones getting the money from you. Needless to say, He wasn’t Catholic,” said Codey. “May he rest in peace.”
Gov. Phil Murphy said on Tuesday that he was introduced to Gorbachev in 2009 through mutual friends of former President George H.W. Bush and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in November 2009. The two were present for the 20th anniversary of the night the Berlin Wall came down. Murphy had become U.S. Ambassador to Germany about two months earlier.
“Mikhail Gorbachev was a rare leader who understood that democratic and economic progress cannot be stopped even if it means the eventual end of one’s own power,” Murphy said. “I was honored to know him.”
Murphy called him a “dedicated statesman…who moved the world away from the threat of nuclear annihilation and toward greater openness, peace, and understanding.
“His legacy is, indeed, a complex one, but one which history will honor for his actions that moved Russia, for a time, toward a free and open democracy,” stated Murphy. “It is a legacy which I sincerely hope lives in his home country.”