Is it just politics or is there something really there worth probing? Gubernatorial candidate and former ambassador Phil Murphy is taking aim at Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, a potential rival. NJTV News Correspondent David Cruz spoke with Correspondent Michael Hill to sort out the complaint, the politics and what it all means.
Hill: David, what’s this all about?
Cruz: Well potential is the key word there because Phil Murphy, former ambassador, has filed a complaint with the Election Law Enforcement Commission saying that Steve Fulop, the mayor of Jersey City and as you said potential gubernatorial candidate, is in fact conducting a defacto gubernatorial campaign through the funding of his mayoral campaign. He cites a number of things in his complaint, including the fact that Fulop has attended events that refer to him running for governor. He also has received an endorsement from Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka for his gubernatorial run still potentially at this time. And that he’s hired a pollster, a direct mail specialist and a media relations specialist. All of these things being paid for out of his mayoral campaign. But for all practical purposes being used to help his potential gubernatorial campaign.
Hill: And he’s taking advantage of the incumbency?
Cruz: Yes, of course.
Hill: Now, Phil Murphy is the only declared gubernatorial candidate at this point, but he’s not the only one, as you said, campaigning at this point is he?
Cruz: No, he’s not. And that’s where this kind of enters a gray area because a lot of the folks who are potential candidates, including Fulop, including Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, Assemblyman [Jack] Ciattarelli, Sen. Ray Lesniak, all of them are incumbents in offices and also informally campaigning for their potential run for governor.
Hill: Now what do you think will happen with the Election Law Enforcement Commission? It’s kind of a paper tiger at this point, is it not?
Cruz: It really is. There is a handful of professional staff there that handles basically processing what they call ELEC reports, where you say this is my campaign committee, this is who gave to me, this is how much I spent, this is how much I’ve received. But there are commissioners on the Election Law Enforcement Commission — four of them, or at least four seats. The problem is that there’s only one commissioner serving there right now and that person, obviously you can’t have a quorum if there’s only one person. And the problem is that the governor gets to appoint two and the Senate gets to appoint two. Clearly the Senate will appoint the two Democrats and the governor will appoint the two Republicans. But right now, there’s just one person sitting on this board and so they are essentially doing nothing in terms of dealing with these complaints. We talked to the governor about that last week. We asked him specifically about that and this is what he said:
Christie: What do you perceive that ELEC actually does? That the commissioner actually does? What do you think they do with elections coming up? People are still filing their reports. Professional staff is still scrutinizing their reports. The only thing that can’t be done is complaints brought against people. That really going to change the effect of the election? Come on. They wait years to file these things. When was the last time you saw a complaint filed and then authorized by ELEC commissioners in the midst of a pending election? I can’t remember one in my lifetime.
Cruz: A rhetorical question of course by the governor but I’ll give you two examples — Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo had a charge against him that he was using campaign funds improperly. It took two years to investigate. Nothing happened because there wasn’t a quorum on the commission. Barbara Buono who ran against Chris Christie for governor, she was charged with the very same thing that Steve Fulop is being charged with by Ambassador Murphy. After two years, she was fined $2,000.
Hill: Thank you David.
Cruz: All right Mike.