Robert Byrne, a highly respected former Jersey City Clerk and a venerable encyclopedia of a city with a rich political history, died today after an illness. He was 63.
His 31-year tenure as city clerk spanned six mayors and three acting mayors, nine mayoral elections, and several runoffs – few without drama.
Byrne was named city clerk in 1989, at age 29, after working as an aide to Mayor Anthony. He replaced Helen Kozma, who was retiring.
He had begun working in the city clerk’s office in 1982 and had moved over to Cucci’s staff after his election in 1985.
The was the younger brother of Paul J. Byrne, a legendary Hudson County political insider who was exponentially more colorful than Robert Byrne.
Paul Byrne told fabled Jersey Journal reporter Peter Weiss that he didn’t want his brother to get the job.
“That’s how he got all nine votes,” he said.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop announced that flags in the city will fly at half-staff next week to honor Byrne.
“For anyone that dealt with Jersey City over the last 30 years, they would have encountered Robert Byrne and every single one of them would have left with a positive and memorable experience,” Fulop said. For me, I have countless examples as he embraced me when I was an outside councilman first elected and taught me about government, he swore me in at midnight when I was first elected mayor of Jersey City, he was a self-designated counsel in my personal life as he lectured me countless times about the importance of family over politics, and he officiated my wedding at City Hall with Jaclyn.”
He added, “The most amazing thing is how close I felt to Robert is the same way thousands of people felt about him in Jersey City.”
Fulop, the mayor since 2013, that Byrne’s death “is a massive loss to Jersey City as he embodied everything that was special about the old born and raised Jersey City in that he loved Jersey City more than one could convey.”
“Robert’s legacy will be remembered here forever, and in a place that prides itself on historical bigger-than-life government officials, Robert will join the ranks of the most significant in Jersey City history,” the mayor stated.
Rick Shaftan, a conservative Republican political consultant who started working in Hudson County in the 1980s, said Byrne “was the only person everyone in Jersey City trusted to run honest elections.”
“He was in a league of his own, respected by all,” Shaftan said.