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Robert E. Mulcahy III. (Photo: New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority).

Robert Mulcahy, New Jersey icon, dies at 85

Ex-Byrne chief of staff ran Meadowlands, Rutgers Athletic department

By David Wildstein, February 08 2022 7:29 pm

Robert E. Mulcahy III, a former Mendham mayor who became one of the most powerful political insiders of his generation as the chief of staff to Gov. Brendan Byrne, died on February 8.  He was 85.

He served as the president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority for 19 years and as the Rutgers University Athletics Director for a decade.  In his later years, Mulcahy was the chairman of the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

Mulcahy was top gubernatorial aide to use the title of chief of staff when he assumed the post at the start of Byrne’s second term in 1978.  Before that, the job title was typically executive secretary to the governor.

He came from a political family: his father, Robert E. Mulcahy, Jr., was a Millburn school board member who was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for State Assembly in 1938.

At age 27, Mulcahy became a candidate for the Mendham Borough Council in 1963.   At the time, Mendham was all-Republican and Mulcahy was the lone Democratic candidate against incumbents Andrew Fletcher and Francis Hewens.   Mulcahy defeated Hewens.

In 1969, he won a three-way seat for Democratic state committeeman.  Mulcahy also served as the Morris County chairman for former Gov. Robert Meyner’s unsuccessful bid to return for a third term, and on the County College of Morris Board of Trustees from 1966 to 1970.

Mulcahy endorsed Assemblywoman Ann Klein (D-Morris Township) for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1973.  After primary, Mulcahy took an active role in Byrne’s campaign against Republican Charles Sandman.

He resigned as mayor in 1974 to join the Byrne administration as deputy commissioner of New Jersey Department of Institutions and Agencies, now known as Human Services.  Byrne had named Klein, who gave up her Assembly seat to run for governor, as commissioner.

Byrne later assigned Mulcahy to take an active leadership role at the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) as the governor began to increasingly rely on him as a troubleshooter for his administration.

After the creation of a new state Department of Corrections to run the prison system – the role had formerly been part of Institutions and Agencies, Mulcahy was nominated as the first commissioner.  At age 40, he became the youngest member of the cabinet.

Byrne was re-elected to a second term after tough primary and general election battles.  His top aide, former Parsippany Mayor Henry Luther III, had left to run the re-election campaign, and after a brief return to state government, he decided to return to his law practice.

Just before Christmas 1977, Byrne announced that his chief counsel, John Degnan, would become attorney general and that Mulcahy would be chief of staff.

In 1979, Mulchay left the Byrne administration to take over the Sports Authority.  He succeeded Robert Harter at a time when the Meadowland Arena (it was the Brendan Byrne arena for a while, until Gov. Christine Todd Whitman approved a sale of the naming rights to Continental Airlines) and the Pegasus Racetrack were under construction.

Mulcahy remained in that post until his hiring as Rutgers Athletic Director in 1998.  He played a major role in the revitalization of the Rutgers football program and the hiring of head football coach Greg Schiano.

“Bob was an extraordinary man who led an extraordinary life,” said Patrick Hobbs, the current Rutgers Athletic Director. “He was one of those rare individuals who balanced being a great husband, father and grandfather, with being a man of public service and a friend to many.”

Mo Butler, the current CRDA chairman, says Mulcahy helped him transition into his role as his successor.

“We’ve lost a true New Jersey Public servant — in every sense of the word,” said Butler.  “I will forever be indebted to him for his mentorship.”

Mulcahy was predeceased by his wife, Terry, last year.  He is survived by his seven children and fifteen grandchildren.

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