BYRNE SUCCUMBS AT HOME Corrupt, genial political insider rose to power in the 1970s

Corrupt, genial political insider rose to power in the 1970s

May 06, 2005 Jersey Journal

Colorful Hudson County political insider and admitted bribe bagman Paul J. Byrne was found dead in his Downtown Jersey City residence yesterday afternoon.

Byrne, 59, already blind from diabetes, suffered congestive heart failure and a stroke on March 31, less than a week before he was to be sentenced on charges that he took bribes for disgraced former Hudson County Executive Robert Janiszewski.

While Byrne was in the hospital, doctors determined he needed a bypass operation, but Byrne said he was ready to die. He returned to his Washington Boulevard home after 11 days in the hospital, telling his doctors and family members that he did not want to be resuscitated if he lost consciousness.

His brother, Jersey City City Clerk Robert Byrne, became concerned when Byrne didn't answer his phone calls yesterday morning.

"I went to his home and discovered him on his bedroom floor," Robert Byrne said. "It didn't look like he had made it into his bed last night."

Robert Byrne said his brother was "a pretty complex guy," but when it came to his family, "he was a real softie."

"There was much more to Paul than Paul showed to the world, and he was a lot more tender than people thought. He had a tough hide but was tender inside. He didn't have a mean bone in him," his brother said.

Byrne grew up at Washburn Street and Baldwin Avenue, where his mother ran a corner candy store, and attended St. Joseph's Elementary School and Dickinson High School.

Politics came naturally - his father was a ward leader under the long reign of Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague. His first involvement in politics was supporting Paul T. Jordan, who was mayor from 1971 to 1977. In the early 1970s, he ran for the City Council unsuccessfully, then moved to a behind-the-scenes role for Janiszewski and other politicians.

"It's not just the end of the chapter in Hudson County politics. It's the end of the book," said Donald Scarinci, a powerful Hudson County attorney and Democratic strategist. "Paul Byrne comes from that era of Hudson County politics for which it is famous."

Byrne's proudest political achievement came more than two years after Janiszewski's fall from grace, when the state passed a bill allowing embryonic stem cell research. He had lobbied for the bill extensively.

Byrne pleaded guilty in July to tax evasion and extortion and faced a sentence of 30 to 37 months in prison. His sentencing, scheduled for early April, was postponed due to his illness.

"He told me he'd like to be remembered as a stand-up guy, and not a rat," his attorney, John Coyle, said yesterday.

In addition to his brother Robert, he is survived by two sisters, Kathy Hathaway and Barbara Donnelly, both of Jersey City; and two other brothers, Andres of Lake Hiawatha and Dennis of Wood-Ridge. Arrangements are by McLaughlin Funeral Home, Jersey City and will be private.

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