NEW YORK -- New Jersey is remembering its first Italian-American governor, Jim Florio, who died Sunday at age 85.
In a tweet, Gov. Phil Murphy said Florio cared more about New Jersey's future than his own political fortunes, and as CBS2's Tony Aiello reports, even rivals held Florio in high regard.
The third time was the charm for Florio, elected governor in 1989, but his four years leading New Jersey proved difficult.
Determined to help big cities while facing a budget deficit, he raised taxes and cut aid to suburban schools, costing him support.
"He was somebody who was passionate about his principles and what he cared about. He stuck to them no matter the cost," former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman said.
Whitman made history, defeating Florio as he sought re-election in 1993.
James Joseph Florio was born in Brooklyn in 1937. He dropped out of high school to join the Navy, eventually attending law school and winning election to the state Assembly.
Florio spent 15 years in Congress, creating the landmark Superfund program signed by President Jimmy Carter to clean up toxic waste sites.
"I have enormous respect for what he was able to get through in Congress on Superfund site and all the work he did to help clean up the atmosphere," Whitman said.
The New York Times called Florio a "restless loner," serious and private.
His second wife, Lucinda, was at his side as he joked with CBS2 about his image in 1989.
"I thought I was always mellow and warm and loveable," Florio said at the time.
The 1993 race was anything but mellow. People upset by tax hikes plastered the state with bumper stickers reading, "Dump Florio."
"The governor made a joke saying that people out-of-the-area thought his first name was 'Dump' because all those bumper stickers said 'Dump Florio,'" said Andre DiMino, with the Italian-American One Voice Coalition.
DiMino says Florio was a point of pride for local Italian Americans.
"New Jersey has such a large number of Italian Americans living in it, and for him to be the first governor was really a page out of history," he said.
Florio titled his biography "Standing on Principle." He will be remembered for doing exactly that.
Murphy ordered that all American and New Jersey flags fly at half-staff at state buildings and facilities for two weeks, starting Tuesday morning, in remembrance of Florio.
The governor released the following statement:
"Governor Florio's legacy of service will be defined by his devotion to bettering the lives of New Jerseyans and standing up for what is right. Governor Florio first ran for public office in 1969 and continued on a long career of public service, dedicating his life to representing New Jerseyans as an Assemblyman, a U.S. Congressman, and Governor. I had the great privilege to know Governor Florio and have always been appreciative of his advice and counsel. Our hearts are both heavy and filled with gratitude as we remember his distinguished career and his lasting impact on the state of New Jersey."
The former governor is survived by his wife, Lucinda, and three children from his first marriage.
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