Award Announcement

Governor Florio of New Jersey Named Recipient of 1993 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

BOSTON, MA, May 24, 1993 -- At a ceremony held today at the John F. Kennedy Library, members of the Kennedy family presented the fourth annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award to New Jersey Governor Jim Florio for his courageous political leadership in gun control, education, and economic reform.

Governor Florio was presented with a $25,000 stipend and a silver lantern designed by Edwin Schlossberg, Inc., and made by Tiffany & Co., which represents the ideals of the Profile in Courage Award. "By taking a strong stand against the rising tide of weapons and violence in his state," said Caroline Kennedy, "Governor Florio became one of the first and few governors in America to defy the powerful national gun lobby and its political forces and resources. Also, his far-reaching budget and tax reforms have restored educational quality and fiscal stability in his state. Governor Florio has provided a model for the nation of wise political vision in facing up to the economic and social challenges of our times."

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy, Jr. participated in the ceremony, which commemorated the 76th anniversary of the birth of President Kennedy. According to Senator Kennedy, "Jim Florio did an outstanding job for the people of New Jersey as a member of the House of Representatives, and he's done an equally outstanding job as Governor. He's shown real political courage in tackling the toughest issues of the times, and he eminently deserves this award."

On May 30, 1990, under Governor Florio's leadership, New Jersey passed the strictest gun control law in the nation, banning the sale and severely restricting the possession of assault weapons in the state. The action was a significant legislative victory for Florio, who was then engaged in a public and political battle over his reforms to the state tax and education systems. The 1990 gun control victory launched a three-year-long battle with the National Rifle Association, gun rights activists, sports organizations, and the state legislature.

In 1991, after an intense lobbying effort by the NRA and gun rights activists, the same Democratic legislature that passed the assault weapon ban voted to weaken it ~ even though 80 percent of New Jersey voters supported it. Although Governor Florio vetoed the amendments, the NRA refused to concede defeat and strengthened their efforts. In 1992, the new Republican-controlled legislature voted to overturn the ban and legalize the sale and possession of assault weapons. Determined to maintain a firm stand against the special interests of the gun lobbyists, Governor Florio again vetoed the bill.

Despite legislative attempts to override his vetoes and tireless efforts by gun lobbyists, who spent nearly one million dollars to defeat the assault weapon ban, Governor Florio succeeded in mobilizing the people of New Jersey into an unprecedented counterforce against the NRA and in support of the ban, demonstrating, as Florio said, that "the State of New Jersey will not be held hostage by the lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association," In March 1993, the state seriate voted unanimously (28-0) to uphold the Governor's veto.

Hawaii has recently banned assault pistols, but New Jersey and California remain the only states where both assault rifles and pistols are banned.

This was not the first time Governor Florio — who believes that he "was elected to lead, not to make policy based on polls" — had taken a strong stand on a controversial issue. Upon taking office in 1990, he risked political and public criticism when he swiftly and boldly restructured the state's income tax system that previously had millionaires paying the same top rate as the middle-class, and reformed an unconstitutional school finance system that relied heavily on unjust property tax assessments which had increased 12-14 percent every year in the 1980s. He also had to confront an unprecedented shortfall of more than $2 billion in the current year's budget and in the fiscal year that would start a few months after he took office.

The Profile in Courage Award takes its name from PROFILES IN COURAGE, the 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book written by John F. Kennedy when he was a senator from Massachusetts. The award was established by the Kennedy Library Foundation in 1989 to honor the quality of political courage in contemporary public life. The book describes events from U.S. history in which courageous elected officials took principled stands on difficult issues and risked the wrath of their constituents. In the book, President Kennedy described such individuals as persons "whose abiding loyalty to their nation triumphed over all personal and political considerations... who showed the real meaning of courage and a real faith in democracy"

Governor Lowell Weicker of Connecticut was the 1992 recipient of the award. In 1991, one month after his inauguration, Governor Weicker sent shock waves through the state by proposing a personal income tax as part of his fiscal year 1992 budget package to deal with the state's $963 million deficit. One of only 10 states in the country without an income tax, Weicker risked his career by challenging the popular bipartisan anti-income tax coalition. Despite threats to his safety, large scale bitter protests, and six months of deadlock in a rancorous battle, Weicker's budget package, including the income tax, was approved by the state legislature.

Charles Weltner, formerly a justice on the Supreme Court of Georgia, was the 1991 recipient of the award. As a United States Congressman from Georgia in 1966, Weltner signed a loyalty oath to support the entire state party ticket in the general election that year. When Lester Maddox, an advocate of segregation, emerged as the party's nominee for Governor, Weltner withdrew from his race for re-election, rather than comply with the loyalty oath. This action angered his supporters and he was never again able to win elective office. Justice Weltner died on August 31, 1992.

The recipient of the first Profile in Courage Award, in 1990, was former United States Congressman Carl Elliott of Alabama, who was selected for leading the successful effort to enact the landmark National Defense Education Act of 1958. That measure helped make college education accessible to all Americans regardless of race or economic status. Elliott lost his seat in 1964 because of his progressive views on race. Elliott has written a book on his experiences in Congress, entitled THE COST OF COURAGE: THE JOURNEY OF AN AMERICAN CONGRESSMAN (1992).

The chairman of the Profile in Courage Award Committee is Richard K. Donahue, president of NIKE, Inc., and former special assistant to President Kennedy. Members of the committee include: Jill Ker Conway, history scholar, and former president of Smith College; T. Jefferson Coolidge, Jr., businessman, and president of Thomas Jefferson Forum; John C. Culver, attorney, and former U.S. Representative and Senator from Iowa; Charles U. Daly, director of the Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Foundation, and former special assistant to President Kennedy; John S. Dyson, chairman of Dyson-Sinclair Association, and former chairman of the New York Power Authority; Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Elaine Jones, director-counsel, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline B. Kennedy, attorney, and president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; John F. Kennedy, Jr., attorney, and vice president of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Paul G. Kirk Jr., attorney, and chairman of the Kennedy Library Foundation; Sumner M. Redstone, CEO of National Amusements, and chairman of Viacom International; John Seigenthaler, chairman emeritus of The Tennessean (Nashville), and chairman of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; Theodore C. Sorensen, author, attorney, and former special counsel to President Kennedy; and Fletcher H. Wiley, attorney, and director of the Kennedy Library Foundation.

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Further Information:
Shelley Sommer
(617) 514-1662