Phil Murphy Launches Advocacy Group, Won’t Discourage Talk of Gov. Run

By David Cruz

Even Phil Murphy had to acknowledge that a lot of people here were here to see Jon Bon Jovi, but the Jersey rock star took a low-key back seat to the real headliner of this event: the former ambassador to Germany and now presumed gubernatorial candidate.

“By no means do we have all or even most of the answers,” he told the gathering of around 200 at NJIT in Newark. “But, thanks to all of you, we have the collective will to begin addressing the problems. I am an optimist by nature and I love New Jersey.”

The stated reason for today’s gathering was the launch of a new non-profit advocacy group called New Start New Jersey, whose stated focus is rebuilding the middle class in New Jersey, which, according to figures released by the group today, suggest is feeling more insecure and uncertain. How it plans to address that was not made entirely clear but the organization will advocate for issues — but not candidates says Murphy — and host a variety of lectures and symposia around the state. Murphy, whose name has been increasingly mentioned as a gubernatorial candidate, said none of this was about him, personally, or the governor’s race.

“No. First of all, that’s a million years from now,” he said. “The next governor puts his hand on the Bible in 2018. This is 2014.”

But, for a guy who says he’s not thinking about a campaign, the heavyweight guest list, in addition to Bon Jovi, read like a who’s who of New Jersey politics. Former Govs. Tom Kean and Brendan Byrne. Congress people once and future. Legislators and leaders of non-profits, all converging in Newark to take a look at the guy who just might have the financial wherewithal and political charisma to blow the 2017 governor’s race wide open.

“First of all, I don’t think there’s any question that that’s what he’s doing,” observed former Gov. Byrne. “Why else would he have us all here?”

The man who succeeded Byrne as governor, Tom Kean, said Murphy has been a friend for over a decade. “There are going to be a number of strong contenders out there and I’m sure he’s going to be one of them,” he said.

Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive, has been spreading the wealth, literally, contributing over $200,000 to Democratic candidates and committees all around the state, including Middlesex, Passaic, Bergen and Mercer counties, among others, giving further rise to speculation about his political ambitions.

“Well, I mean it’s hard to escape the fact that that has been a discussion around him,” added Congresswoman-elect Bonnie Watson Coleman, “so obviously when you watch him, you listen in the context of what he’s been, and what he could possibly be. He’s very impressive, very substantive, and very thoughtful.”

Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who’s seen a few potential governors come and go, says she’s impressed with Murphy, too.

“Let me put it this way, I find him interesting,” she said. “So we’ll see.”

It will come as no secret to most people in New Jersey that the middle class feels insecure and uncertain, but this new study aims to put a number to those feelings. And if those numbers just happen to firm the foundation of a gubernatorial campaign? Phil Murphy supporters will say that’s OK, too.