Joseph Simunovich never strayed far from his New Jersey roots. Born in Jersey City, he was raised in nearby West New York, where he became an All-State football player at Memorial High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Colgate University, but came back home to study for his master’s in business management at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Simunovich entered politics while still in his 20s, playing a role in several political campaigns and serving as treasurer of the local Democratic Party in West New York. In 1973, he was appointed to a vacant seat on the Hudson County Board of Freeholders; he would serve as a freeholder for 12 years.
Meanwhile, Simunovich’s business career blossomed. He was an executive with Bell Atlantic New Jersey and New York Telephone (Verizon), and served as president and chief of staff for SUEZ North America, a Paramus-based water and waste-management company. In 1991, he began his affiliation with the Hackensack University Medical Center, serving on the board of governors and in a variety of other leadership roles, including as the founding chair of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall Board of Governors.
Simunovich also served in leadership roles for nine New Jersey governors. Governor Tom Kean named him to the board of the state’s Economic Development Authority; he was later re-nominated by governors Jim Florio and Christine Todd Whitman. In all, he served six terms at the EDA, the longest tenure in the state’s history.
In 2002, Governor James McGreevey picked Simunovich to serve as chairman of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. In this post, Simunovich guided the historic cost-saving consolidation of the Garden State Parkway with the Turnpike Authority. He also oversaw removal of the toll booths on the Parkway to speed traffic flow, and the implementation of E-Z Pass.
Additional associations included the Bergen County Economic Development Corporation; the New Brunswick Development Corporation; the National Association of Water Companies; the National Council of Public-Private Partnerships; the Leadership Committee of the Bergen County Workforce Investment Board; and New Jersey City University.
Lifetime honors included the United Hospital Fund of New York Distinguished Trustee Award, the New Jersey Hospital Association Trustee of the Year Award, and NJBIZ Magazine’s Icon of the Year Award.