Nicholas Brady, New Jersey’s oldest-living former United States Senator, is 93 today. He is the fifth-oldest living former U.S. Senator.
Brady served in the U.S. Senate for nearly nine months in 1982 following the resignation of Democrat Harrison Williams. He also served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury from 1988 to 1993 under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
Williams was serving his fourth term in the Senate in 1980 when he was convicted of bribery in the Abscam scandal. He was found guilty on May 1, 1981, but remained in the Senate until March 11, 1982, when he resigned just before his colleagues were prepared to vote on his expulsion.
The decision to appoint a new U.S. Senator belonged to Republican Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who had taken office two months earlier after winning by just 1,797 votes statewide. Since Williams was a Democrat, the Senate seat was going to be held by a Republican for the first time since Williams flipped the seat in 1958 against Kean’s father, then-Rep. Robert W. Kean (R-Livingston).
When Williams resigned, two Republicans sought the open seat: Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-Bernardsville) and Jeff Bell, a former Reagan speechwriter who had beaten four-term incumbent Clifford Case in the 1978 GOP primary but then lost the general election to NBA legend Bill Bradley. Rep. Jim Courter (R-Allamuchy) was also interested in the Senate appointment.
That put Kean in a tough spot since Fenwick, Bell and Courter had been early supporters of his 1981 bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Instead, Kean decided to appoint a caretaker and not boost the chances of any one Senate candidate in the June Republican primary.
His pick was Brady, a Far Hills resident and investment banker who had chaired his inaugural committee and transition team. Brady was the Republican State Committeeman from Somerset County.
Fenwick defeated Bell in the primary and was favored to win the general but lost to Democrat Frank Lautenberg, a Port Authority Commissioner and self-funder, in Reagan’s mid-term election.
In a bid to give Lautenberg and New Jersey a jump on seniority, Brady resigned from the Senate on December 27, 1982, and Kean appointed Lautenberg to fill the vacancy. Lautenberg was sworn in that day while vacationing in Colorado and completed the last week of Williams’ term. (The Senate has since ended the practice of permitting freshmen senators to jump the seniority line).
After Kean was declared the winner of the 1981 gubernatorial election following an extended recount, Democratic leaders in Washington and New Jersey fervently sought to convince Williams to resign so that the outgoing Democratic governor, Brendan Byrne, could appoint the new senator.
The high drama on that extended into the morning of Kean’s swearing-in. With Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd trying to get Williams to give up his seat, Byrne went to the inauguration with a letter appointing Williams’ successor. The outgoing New Jersey Secretary of State, Donald Lan, was positioned next to Byrne and was prepared to process the paperwork right up until the time Kean was administered the oath of office.
Years later, Tom Byrne, a former Democratic State Chairman and the late governor’s son told PoliticsNJ that Byrne’s pick for the U.S. Senate seat was former Senate President Joseph Merlino.
New Jerseyans as Secretary of the Treasury
As Treasury Secretary, Brady developed a plan called Brady Bonds to help countries avoid defaulting on international debt.
New Jersey has a long connection with the Secretary of the Treasury post.
The oldest-living Treasury Secretary, 96-year-old W. Michael Blumenthal, resides in Princeton. He served under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1979 and was a delegate from New Jersey to the 2008 Democratic National Convention pledged to Barack Obama.
Blumenthal’s immediate predecessor was another New Jerseyan, Harding resident William E. Simon (1927-2000). Simon was Secretary of the Treasury from 1974 to 1977 under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Far Hills resident C. Douglas Dillon (1909-2003) was Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, serving from 1961 to 1965. A Republican, he had served as U.S. Undersecretary of State and Ambassador to France under Eisenhower. Dillon was chairman of Dillon, Read & Co., an investment bank that Brady later ran.
Donald Regan (1918-2003) lived in Ridgewood while he served as president of Merrill Lynch. He was Ronald Reagan’s Treasury Secretary from 1981 to 1985, and after a job swap with James Baker, was the White House Chief of Staff from 1985 to 1987.
The first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, is eternally linked to New Jersey: he was killed in Weehawken in 1804 in a dual with Vice President Aaron Burr.
Brady is one of five living former U.S. Senators from New Jersey: Bradley, 79, was elected to the Senate in 1978 and re-elected in 1984 and 1990; Bob Torricelli, 71, served in the House from 1983 to 1997 and in the Senate from 1997 to 2003; Jon Corzine, 76, served from 2001 until he became governor in 2006; and Jeff Chiesa, 57, spent four months in the Senate in 2013 after Lautenberg’s death.