By John Celock
CRANFORD, N.J. – A likely Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor in 2017 used a speech to Democrats here to call for “adult leadership” in the state and a focus on the middle class.
Phil Murphy, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany and investment banker, focused his Monday evening speech to Democrats from around Union County to focus on building out the party’s infrastructure and focusing on races at all levels, saying that the party can position itself to reclaim the Garden State’s governorship when Gov. Chris Christie (R) is term limited in 2017. The speech was sponsored by the Union County Democratic Committee and the Cranford Democratic Club.
“We need a common sense plan that is middle class first,” Murphy said.
Murphy, one of five Democrats exploring bids for New Jersey governor in 2017, told the crowd that from his travels around New Jersey he’s found that residents “want a great state again” and New Jersey residents are seeking change. Murphy took swipes at Christie, a Republican presidential hopeful, saying that the state’s governor needs to stay in the state. Christie has been criticized by Democrats for years for his national travel since taking office in 2010, including his 2014 stint as Republican Governors Association chairman and presidential campaign, which launched earlier this year.
“This is a state that is looking for adult leadership,” Murphy said. “An adult who listens and will stay and will help. An adult who puts a plan in front of us. An adult who works at it 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Murphy, who said that he is “highly likely” to seek the governorship in 2017, focused his speech on his middle class background growing up in Boston and what he said is a need to focus on those issues for the party. Among the issues Murphy touched on were college affordability, paid sick leave, the relationship between organized labor and corporate management, STEM education, community colleges, growing the technology sector and transportation.
Murphy centered the need to grow New Jersey’s technology sector in order to grow the state’s economy, which has been heavily centered on the pharmaceutical industry. Noting New Jersey’s history in being home to Bell Laboratories and other early telecommunications firms, he said that the state could return to focus on growing this sector through a combination of areas, including building STEM education.
“New Jersey used to be Silicon Valley before Silicon Valley was Silicon Valley,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the recruitment of technology firms and other companies to the state needed to focus more than on tax incentives, saying that promoting a solid education and transportation system was important, along with communities that are attractive places for employees to move to.
Murphy touted a North Dakota plan where the state helps pay the student loans of North Dakota students who major in science, technology, math and engineering and then stay and work in the state. He said that he would be willing to look at such a plan in New Jersey to help what he said is the growing concern of New Jersey students leaving for other states.
In the area of political infrastructure, Murphy said he wanted to follow the philosophy of former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean to build up the grassroots and focus on races across the state. Dean was known for his 50 state strategy during his four years at the helm of the DNC.
Murphy has been traveling the state since last year touting his New Start New Jersey group and meeting Democratic leaders in preparation for a 2017 gubernatorial bid. Murphy has been gaining momentum during the last year frequently being mentioned along with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) as likely gubernatorial candidates. In recent months, state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) have expressed interest in the 2017 gubernatorial race. On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) are viewed as the two most likely contenders.
Murphy’s presentation in Cranford touched on issues interrelated to his likely primary opponents. Sweeney is a long time union leader, while Murphy’s touting of the Jersey City waterfront as a new home for New Yorkers brought him rhetorically into Fulop’s home base. Fulop spent two terms as the city councilman for Jersey City’s waterfront before being elected mayor in 2013. Wisniewski is the long time chairman of the Assembly transportation committee. Union County is Lesniak’s base and Lesniak himself spoke at a Cranford Democratic Club event earlier this month.
Murphy, who used the speech to say that Democrats need to campaign hard in even historically Republican towns, also came to Bramnick’s base with the speech. Bramnick has represented Cranford and western Union County for over a decade and Westfield borders Cranford. Murphy is not the only likely gubernatorial candidate to appear in Union County in recent days, with Guadagno headlining a fundraiser for Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit), Bramnick’s legislative running mate, on Saturday.
During the speech Murphy kept the focus on his background, middle class proposal and service in Germany, largely steering clear of his work at Goldman Sachs. Murphy’s rise has been compared to former Gov. Jon Corzine (D), a former Goldman Sachs executive who won a U.S. Senate seat in 2000 and the governorship in 2005 before losing his reelection bid to Christie in 2009. In an interview with The Celock Report after his speech, Murphy said that he has not seen the comparison mentioned during his travels.
“I’ve met thousands of people across the state and not one said that I reminded them of Jon Corzine,” he said.
Murphy expressed confidence in his push for Democrats to run hard in every community, noting that it will help build the party and can get Democrats elected in Republican leaning communities. While noting that it will not elect every local Democrat, he said it will allow for enthusiasm to build around the state for Democrats.
In terms of the 2017 primary, Murphy said that he planned to have a strong campaign statewide for his likely gubernatorial race. Sweeney and Fulop have been viewed as having strong organizational fronts within the Democratic Party, with Sweeney being close to South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross and Fulop hailing from Hudson County, which is home to one of the most powerful county parties in the state. Fulop and Hudson County Democrats have been conducting outreach to other county Democratic Party organizations in North Jersey.
Murphy has been ramping up his own campaign infrastructure, retaining Essex County Freeholder Vice President Brendan Gill, a former campaign manager for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D), as a consultant. Murphy is also close to state Sen. Dick Codey (D-Roseland), a former New Jersey governor.
“We will not be out organized,” Murphy told The Celock Report.