Growing Up Jersey: Politics

Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz and former Governor Brendan Byrne sound off on their Jersey memories.

Wilda Diaz

Banker, politician
Born: Perth Amboy (1964)

Photo courtesy of Wilda Diaz

Diaz, the mayor of Perth Amboy since 2008, is the oldest of six daughters of parents who were born in Puerto Rico: “My dad would put all six of us with my mom in his little Chevy Nova, and he would drive us to the waterfront, where they used to play the Puerto Rican softball league. It was like a big family; everybody knew each other, their parents or uncles or brothers played on the teams, and because the league was trying to raise money, they would have pig roasts. I would sneak away with my sisters to the handball courts to play. Only in Perth Amboy would this happen, where you would have the softball league down at the waterfront and they’re doing pig roasts.”—As told to Kevin Coyne, fall 2017

Brendan Byrne

Governor (1974-1982)
Born: West Orange (1924)

Photo courtesy of John Barrett/Globe Photos/

“My father ran for commissioner in West Orange when I was in kindergarten and he lost. He ran several times and he lost. And then once he won, he didn’t lose anymore. I was one of five siblings, and when he ran we would all go out on Saturdays and knock on doors.”

The lesson from that? “Persistence.”

“As a sophomore [at West Orange High School] I was nominated for president of the class. I turned it down. I just didn’t think it was my cup of tea. Junior year I turned it down. Senior year I turned it down again, but the principal said, ‘You ought to do it.’ And I said, ‘I’ll do it, but on these conditions.’ I had chutzpah.”—As told to Kevin Coyne, fall 2017

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