The Bloustein School is saddened to announce the death of Senior Policy Fellow James J. Florio, former Governor of New Jersey and an eight-term congressman, on Sunday evening, September 25. He was 85.
“Governor Florio was a principled and effective policy advocate. During his long career — as a community organizer, state legislator, member of Congress, and Governor — he held firm to core values. He believed deeply in the power of government to transform the lives of those most in need and the courage to fight for policies even at the risk of his political career,” said Carl Van Horn, Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, who served as Governor Florio’s Director of Policy from 1990 to 1992. “His leadership provides inspiration and a role model for public servants and for future leaders graduating from the Bloustein School.”
A few years after the conclusion of his gubernatorial term in 1994, Gov. Florio joined the Bloustein School as a Senior Policy Fellow where he taught graduate students for decades. Public policy development, like everything else, changed significantly over the past few decades. Noting that state and federal governments were in a period of transformational change of policy, he impressed upon his students that rather than marginal modifications — which could be disruptive and dislocating — systemic change was needed to meet citizen expectations. In his classes, he reviewed how current administrations were coping with change using traditional policy analysis as well as extensive comparative review of current events and policy developments over the past three decades.
In 2015, the Bloustein School partnered with the offices of Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt, & Fader LLC to recognize and honor Gov. Florio’s venerable public service career through the endowment of a high-level visiting scholar in public policy.
The annual Governor James J. Florio Distinguished Visiting Scholar of Public Policy engages a current or former senior government official or policy practitioner, focusing on an issue that is central to his legislative and gubernatorial career. The scholar spends a day or more interacting with Bloustein School graduate and undergraduate students and faculty, and concludes their engagement with a public lecture at the school. Since its inception, Visiting Scholars have addressed the school emphasizing values important to Governor Florio:
- Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ, 1979-1997), discussed how continuing on the existing foreign policy, electoral, and economic paths would mean a diminished future for the country, and laid out a framework of how to reverse course;
- Governor Edward G. Rendell, Former Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, discussed the state of America’s infrastructure and why the cost of doing nothing would be greater than the cost of doing something;
- Richard J. Jackson, former Director, Center for Disease Control National Center for Environmental Health, discussed the need for Americans to increase physical activity and how to counteract the “hostile” built environment that serves as a detriment to physical, mental, social, economic health;
- Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Navy combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, talked about federal inaction on gun policies and how New Jersey, with some of the strongest gun laws in the country—thanks to Governor Florio—can serve as a model for other states;
- New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, unveiled a bevy of ethics reforms that aim to change the culture of New Jersey’s government, including transparency around lobbying, restricting outside income and gifts, limiting OPRA exemptions for lawmakers, and requiring that all legislation be made public 72 hours before final voting;
- Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), weighed in on U.S. foreign policy as it related to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, warning that U.S. foreign policy needed to respond to autocrats like Vladmir Putin in a way that prioritizes the highest American values and principles.
In addition, the school’s auditorium and atrium in the Civic Square Building, frequented by hundreds of students, scholars, business leaders, high-level government officials, and senior university leaders, was renamed The Governor James J. Florio Special Events Forum. Considered one of the premier event spaces on the Rutgers campus, the space includes a seating capacity of up to 140. It includes state-of-the-art sound, visual, and technology features.
“Governor Florio was a valued member and major contributor to the Bloustein community, as well as a model for many of us and our students,” said Stuart Shapiro, Professor and Interim Dean of the Bloustein School. “More than 15 years of students benefitted from the experience and knowledge he brought to the classroom. His life, dedicated to public service and filled with accomplishments improving the lives of New Jerseyans, leaves a legacy that we should all strive to live up to. The school will greatly miss his presence and exceptional leadership.”