In the early days of New Jersey’s 2017 gubernatorial election, only one of the anticipated frontrunners for the Democratic nomination has officially announced his candidacy. Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy has had the stage to himself for months now, amassing by slow increments the kinds of North Jersey endorsements that could cut into his rivals’ chances.
If Murphy is going to compete with Sweeney and Fulop, who have the ears of Democratic kingmakers like George Norcross in Camden County and Joe DiVincenzo in Essex, he will need a county line of his own to to net the roughly 25 percent of the vote that would win him the nomination.
Recent votes of confidence in all-important Bergen County could signal a sea change in influential party bosses’ willingness to put their resources behind the former Goldman Sachs executive. Following a rash of endorsements out of Bergen in the last week, a source told Observer that more endorsements won’t be far behind.
Murphy, who is expected to run against State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop among others on the Democrats’ deep bench, secured an important endorsement from Bergen County Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37) last week. Bergen municipal Democrats in Elmwood Park and Dumont followed on Wednesday, and Democrats in Paramus are rumored to be mulling their own endorsement—Murphy is planning a Friday press conference with Paramus Mayor Richard LaBarbiera.
Whether those percolations will move powerful Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato to make his own endorsement remains to be seen (though Jon Bon Jovi is convinced).
Dumont Councilwoman Ellen Zamechansky said in a statement that she believes Murphy would present the most drastic change from the administration of Republican Governor Chris Christie.
“Governor Christie has put special interests and politics before the wellbeing of New Jerseyans far too often,” Zamechansky wrote. “Phil Murphy will restore integrity to the Governor’s Office and put Dumont’s families ahead of the special interests.
Pundits have largely called the race for the Democrats in light of Christie’s abysmal 23 percent approval rating, but Sweeney and Fulop both have baggage from the governor’s two-term tenure: Sweeney has faced blowback from labor groups for compromising with Christie on changes to public pensions, and Fulop has been asked to testify in the ongoing Bridgegate trial.
Fulop is not charged in the case, but emails that surfaced before the trial suggest that the governor’s office tried to procure his endorsement by doing favors for a private firm he represented. Though Fulop did not endorse Christie in the end, even entertaining the offer would be a crime.
Sweeney is reportedly on track to make his gubernatorial campaign official in November. Also competing for nomination will be State Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20), who is expected to formally announce his campaign at the end of the month. Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) and Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35) are also weighing their own bids.