TRENTON, N.J. — Robert B. Meyner, a one-time country lawyer who overcame a dominant Republican Party to become New Jersey's first Democratic governor in 13 years, has died.
It was reported Monday that he was 81 when he died Sunday in Captiva, Fla., where he had retired many years ago. Emma Byrne, press secretary to New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio, said Meyner had been in poor health since suffering a stroke in 1986.
Meyner, who was New Jersey's chief of state from 1954 until 1962, was the first governor to serve two terms after a new state constitution was adopted in 1947. He sought an additional term in 1969 and won the Democratic nomination but lost the general election to Republican William Cahill.
As governor, Meyner was known as a frugal spender of taxpayer money who boasted, "I could pinch a penny until it hurt."
Meyner, who had practiced law in the small New Jersey town of Phillipsburg since 1936, was credited with keeping a balanced state budget, and with ably administering basic state needs such as water supply and land management. He oversaw the completion of the New Jersey Turnpike in the mid-1950s.
Running for reelection in 1957, he was challenged by multimillionaire magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes, a Republican, who late in the campaign had scheduled a program to come on television just after the end of one of Meyner's. But Meyner decided to end his TV appeal for votes with the national anthem and a picture of the American flag. Many viewers thought their station had signed off for the night and turned off their sets.
His success in the state put him in demand for speaking engagements across the country. From 1958 to early 1960, he was considered a possibility for the Democratic nomination for president.
Meyner came to the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles as New Jersey's favorite-son candidate and received the state's 41 votes on the first ballot that nominated John F. Kennedy.
In 1957 Meyner married Helen Stevenson, a cousin of Adlai Stevenson, the 1952 and 1956 Democratic presidential nominee. Mrs. Meyner, who survives him, served two terms in Congress from 1975 to 1979.