Joseph P. Miele, who served as a commissioner of both the New Jersey Highway and Turnpike authorities and was a leading advocate for New Jerseyans facing alcohol and drug addiction, has died. He was 81.
He began his public service career in 1967 when then-Essex County Prosecutor Brendan Byrne hired him as an assistant prosecutor.
After Byrne departed to become a Superior Court Judge in 1968, the new prosecutor, Joseph P. Lordi, named picked Miele as one of his top lieutenants and made him head of the Homicide unit. In 1972, he became First Assistant Prosecutor following the departure of Andrew F. Zazzali, Jr.
He resigned in 1973 to start a law firm and was replaced by former Assemblyman Leonard Ronco.
Among the urban legends surrounding Miele was that he’d been the last prosecutor to put someone in the electric chair in New Jersey. That happened in 1963, when Ralph Hudson was executed for killing his estranged wife.
Miele came from a political family.
His father, Anthony P. Miele, had served as Essex County Republican Chairman from 1954 to 1955. A former East Orange councilman, his father was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Essex County Freeholder in 1937.
Gov. Thomas Kean nominated Miele to serve as a commissioner of the New Jersey Highway Authority in 1985. He left in 1990, after Jim Florio became governor, but returned to state government in 1995 when Gov. Christine Todd Whitman appointed him to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. He served until 2007.
As a commissioner, Miele led a move to demote and suspend two authority employees who were accused of sexual harassment after staff had suggested a more lenient punishment.
Kean named Miele to serve as the first chairman of the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Use in 1989. Three years later, he founded the non-profit Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey. Miele’s brother was an alcoholic who died of a heart attack at age 39.
Miele practiced law in Millburn and ran a myriad of companies.
He also chaired the Committee for a Smart New Jersey, a grassroots group that advocated for improvements to the state’s transportation network, and the Garden State Arts Foundation. He was vice chairman of the New Jersey Constitutional Bicentennial Commission.
Miele headed the Joseph P. Miele Foundation, which has provided millions of dollars in academic scholarships to students in need.
A graduate of Gettysburg College, he received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1964. While awaiting the results of his bar examination, Miele worked as a detective in Essex County and then as an associate at Schapira, Steiner and Walder.
Gov. Phil Murphy praised Miele as “a dedicated public servant whose commitment to the people and State of New Jersey spanned more than five decades.
“His lasting legacy will be his leadership in the fight against addiction, whether it be the role he played in the creation of the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, which he also chaired, or with the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey,” Murphy said. “Serving people was J.P.’s passion, and his dedication to a healthy New Jersey will be his legacy.”