HON. DONALD T. DIFRANCESCO
Donald T. DiFrancesco, was the fifty-first Governor of New Jersey and a long-time member of the State Senate serving in public service for more than 25 years. His career in public service began with his election to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1975 when he was just over 30 years old. He was re-elected in 1977 and served on the Assembly Institutions, Health and Welfare Committee as well as on the Banking and Insurance Committee. He was Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Ethical Standards.
In a special election on November 6, 1979, Governor DiFrancesco was elected to the New Jersey State Senate, to which he was re-elected six times representing the 22nd Legislative District. He served as Minority Leader from 1982 to 1984. In 1992, he was chosen to serve as President of the Senate, setting a record for his decade-long service in that role. As Senate President, DiFrancesco sponsored the constitutional amendment prohibiting unfunded State mandates, the 2000 law that renewed the Transportation Trust Fund, and the 1999 Bond Act that led to the establishment of the Garden State Preservation Trust Fund, a $98 million initiative to preserve open space, farmlands and historic properties.
As Senate President, DiFrancesco served as Acting Governor (as mandated under New Jersey’s constitution at that time) at least once a year while Governors James J. Florio and Christine Todd Whitman were traveling out of state for short periods of time. On January 31, 2001, when Governor Christine Todd Whitman resigned to become Administrator of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, Governor DiFrancesco became the first New Jersey legislator since the amendment to the 1947 State Constitution to serve in the dual role of Governor and Senate President.
His work relating to health care, children and families is evidenced in the success of the Catastrophic Illness in Children Relief Fund, which has provided more than $100 million in grants to over 4,000 families whose insurance and income cannot meet the medical bills for children with major illnesses. He was also the prime sponsor of the Family Leave Act in New Jersey, the first of its kind in the United States. As Acting Governor, he also unveiled the $53 million “KIDS NEEDS ACTION PLAN,” which supported a range of initiatives for children from infancy to adolescence.
A strong advocate for higher education throughout his career in public service, Governor DiFrancesco’s efforts led to a vastly improved technology infrastructure as well as key additions to and improvements in the capital facilities at New Jersey’s higher education institutions. He also sponsored legislation to establish the New Jersey Better Educational Savings Trust, a state-managed program designed to encourage saving for college. Governor DiFrancesco is a frequent lecturer at New Jersey’s public schools and universities where he shares his years of experience in state government and keen insight into the political process providing students with an invaluable perspective on public service in the modern era.
Governor DiFrancesco was born November 20, 1944 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, where he attended Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1966 and Seton Hall University School of Law in 1969. He was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in 1969, and joined the law firm, then known as Bivona, Cohen, Kunzman, Coley, Yospin, Bernstein & Davis, P.C. He remained at the law firm until January 31, 2001, when he was sworn in as Acting Governor.
After serving as Acting Governor, DiFrancesco rejoined the firm, which then became DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis & Lehrer, P.C. He currently serves on the Boards of Directors of The New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, The Tri-County Chapter of the American Red Cross and Children’s Specialized Hospital of Mountainside, as well as Crime Stoppers of Somerset County, an organization dedicated to promote safer communities through a partnership with law enforcement, media and local residents. Governor DiFrancesco previously served on the Board of Directors of Commerce Bancorp for several years. On May 17, 2007, he was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree at the 240th Anniversary Commencement at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. He also holds honorary degrees from Kean University and Centenary College. Governor DiFrancesco married the former Diane Dragovic in 1967. They are the parents of three daughters — Marie, Tracy, and Marci – and currently have six grandchildren.
He was appointed to the University Hospital Board of Directors on July 1, 2013, and currently serves as Chairman. Governor DiFrancesco’s term will expire in 2018.