By Jay Cook |
MIDDLETOWN – Friends and political counterparts all said former Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr.’s best trait was his knack for building bridges across party lines.
Now Kyrillos has his own bridge in his hometown.
After a 30-year political career representing Monmouth County’s 13thLegislative District, Kyrillos, a Republican, was honored last week by family, friends and colleagues when the Hubbard’s Bridge connecting Middletown and Red Bank was dedicated to him. It’s now the “Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos Bridge.”
“I hope this beautiful bridge can serve as a symbol, a symbol of how we can, and we must, come together to keep our state strong and to keep our country strong,” Kyrillos said before unveiling a sign with his name on it.
A crowd of about a hundred supporters packed Swimming River Park along West Front Street for the dedication. It was a collective who’s who of Monmouth County politicians in attendance to support Kyrillos. Local, county, state and federal officials all turned out.
One of Kyrillos’ biggest supporters present at the dedication wasn’t even from Monmouth County, let alone his own political party. Senate President Steve Sweeney, who represents Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties, made the trek for the unveiling. The two forged a bipartisan friendship that extended beyond the gold dome in Trenton.
“I came here out of friendship,” Sweeney said. “When I came to the Senate, everyone said Joe Kyrillos was a guy you could do business with because he cared about the state. He didn’t care about Republicans and Democrats. He just wanted to get things done.”
Sweeney even had a cheerful jab for Kyrillos.
“Joe, what an honor – and they did it while you were alive,” Sweeney joked.
Kyrillos’ bridge renaming was proposed by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The all-Republican board passed a resolution last month to go ahead with the dedication. Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone said Kyrillos helped secure $7 million in funding to complete the bridge’s reconstruction a few years ago.
“Things get done for a reason beyond party lines,” said Arnone. “This is a perfect example. We’re sitting at a bridge that borders a Republican town and a Democrat town. But guess what? The bridge is done because of bipartisan leadership. And Joe was the stalwart for bipartisanship.”
State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) recalled what it was like facing off against Kyrillos. As Monmouth County Democrats chairman in 2013, he said there weren’t many challengers willing to go toe-to-toe against Kyrillos. In fact, they were “literally begging people to run” against him.
“That speaks volumes,” Gopal continued. “I think when we look back through all the legislators of Monmouth County, when it’s all said and done, few will be like Joe Kyrillos.”
Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-13), a former Assemblyman under Kyrillos who filled his vacancy last year, said he was stopped by a constituent while grocery shopping last month and was asked about why bridges are being named for politicians.
“If you asked every legislator for the past 30 years to make a list of three or four legislators, most dedicated people they look up to, Joe Kyrillos would be on just about every single list of Democrats and Republicans,” O’Scanlon said.
On the next trip over the former Hubbard’s Bridge, which carries West Front Street over the Swimming River, motorists will notice a green sign reaching up just outside the guardrails with the words “Senator Kyrillos Bridge” inscribed on it. A plaque honoring the dedication was built into the bridge, as well.
Kyrillos said his years of public service can be traced back to his wife, Susan, who was there for the ups and downs. He recognized her support and made sure the crowd knew, too.
“Susan has a share in so much of what I’ve accomplished in my life, particularly these last 23 years,” he said. “In fact, I’m tempted to etch her name right above mine on the plaque right above the bridge.”
Kyrillos, a Middletown resident, represented Monmouth County for three decades. He was a two-term Assemblyman and was then sworn in to the state Senate in 1992. He did not seek reelection in the 2017 election.
When Republicans tipped the scales in Trenton, he was the Majority Conference Leader. He also chaired economic development and coastal resources committees. Kyrillos was Republican State Committee chairman from 2001 to 2004 and ran an unsuccessful bid as the Republican nominee for United States Senate in 2012.
This article first appeared in the August 2 -9, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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