By Alan J. Steinberg
Initially, I thought Phil Murphy, as a candidate for the New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2017 would be the second coming of John Corzine – a well-meaning yet out-of-touch gubernatorial candidate who would be unable to communicate effectively with middle class and working class New Jerseyans.
Murphy had been appointed by former Acting Governor Dick Codey in 2005 to chair an advisory commission regarding the state pension shortfall. The commission’s implicit recommendation was a $12.1 billion tax hike – political suicide in New Jersey. To me, this was the forerunner of the Jon Corzine asset monetization/toll hike proposal which doomed him in his reelection campaign against Chris Christie in 2009.
In addition, articles by Agustin Torres in the Jersey Journal painted a portrait of Murphy, a former Goldman-Sachs partner, living the lifestyle of the rich and famous, along with his family, while serving as Ambassador to Germany during the Obama administration. This added to my impression that Phil Murphy was the ultimate politically clueless plutocrat, doomed to political oblivion.
There are few image problems in politics, however, that a first class team of media and message consultants cannot handle. And Phil Murphy had the wisdom to hire for his super PAC, New Way for New Jersey the ultimate “A-Team” of New Jersey Democratic political savants.
You cannot find a better team of Democratic political gurus than the Murphy coterie of Julie Roginsky, Brad Lawrence, Steve DeMicco, and Brendan Gill. The efforts of this team became evident recently with the advent of the super PAC television commercials featuring Phil Murphy himself.
These commercials have magnificently transformed the image of Phil Murphy from the second coming of Jon Corzine to the New Jersey version of Michael Bloomberg – a plutocrat, to be sure, but one with superb communication skills and the ability to attract a first class team of advisors and administrators. I had the good fortune to work directly with Michael Bloomberg in his capacity as Mayor of New York while I served as Region 2 EPA Administrator, and I know of what I speak.
In addition to his “A-Team”, Phil Murphy has another asset. He and his wife, Tammy are close friends of Republican State Senator Joe Kyrillos, one of the most knowledgeable and highly respected state senators in modern New Jersey political history. While Kyrillos cannot be expected to formally endorse Murphy, he certainly will be available to him for wise advice and counsel on the critical issues facing the Garden State.
Yet despite these assets and his good start, Phil Murphy remains a definite underdog for the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
In politics, you need three components for a winning campaign: Money, message, and organization. Phil Murphy already has an effective message, and through his own self-funding, he will have a substantial financial advantage over his major competitors for the 2017 Democratic Gubernatorial nomination: New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, and veteran State Senator Ray Lesniak.
Yet it is in the area of organization that Phil Murphy is at a distinct disadvantage. All his rivals have a party support geographic base – Sweeney has South Jersey, Fulop has Hudson County, Lesniak has Union County. Murphy cannot even count on organizational support from his home county of Monmouth, where Democratic chair Vin Gopal is said to be friendly with Fulop.
In fact, it is Steve Fulop who has the best opportunity to capture a geographic base that will make him the clear front runner in the race. If Fulop wins the Democratic organizational support in the other North Jersey counties of Essex, Bergen, and Passaic, he will have an advantage over all his competitors that will be difficult to overcome, if not insurmountable.
Accordingly, in 2016, Phil Murphy’s mission will be clear: to establish a geographic base which, when added to his monetary advantage and superb communication skills, can make him the Democratic front runner for Gubernatorial Campaign 2017. If he succeeds in doing so, there may well be a New Jersey version of Michael Bloomberg in the Garden State’s future.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.