After South Jersey Dinner With Murphy, Sweeney Encouraged But Not Ready to Endorse

Senate President Steve Sweeney extended an important invitation to gubernatorial hopeful Phil Murphy this week.

Senate President Steve Sweeney extended an important invitation to gubernatorial hopeful Phil Murphy this week. Max Pizarro for Observer

Conventional wisdom has it that former U.S. Ambassador Phil Murphy has the Democratic nomination locked up in New Jersey’s approaching gubernatorial contest after netting key endorsements from powerful northern chairmen back in September. And now it looks as though his one-time rival, Senate President Steve Sweeney, is edging closer to an endorsement of the man who beat out him and Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop.

Many predicted that the primary battle would come down to Sweeney and Fulop, but both announced they would not be running for governor shortly after Murphy took all-important Bergen County. While Fulop offered his endorsement on stage with the former Goldman Sachs executive, Sweeney has said that he needs more time and a proper introduction to lend his support to Murphy’s campaign.

That turning point may have arrived. Monday night, South Jersey’s influential Camden County Democratic organization and a passel of southern legislators attended a fundraiser in Mount Laurel for Sweeney’s “New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow” super PAC at which Murphy was the most notable guest. County chairs Joseph Andl, James Beach, Steven Caltabiano, Wyatt Earp, Douglas Long, Fred Madden, Michael Suleiman and Jeffrey Sutherland were all in attendance.

Speaking at an unrelated event Tuesday morning, Sweeney said that he considers last night’s event to be the introduction he called for in an interview with Observer last week. He said Murphy’s invitation does not reflect an endorsement.

“All the legislators from district seven south except Jim Whelan, because he had a personal issue,” he said. “Both houses. We had all the chairs of those counties, south. And we had a very good meeting with Phil Murphy.

“At this point, we haven’t endorsed anybody yet,” he continued. “Obviously, I was seriously considering running for governor. A lot of people down here were very solidly with me. So this was a chance for us to break the ice.”

Murphy will face Assemblyman John Wisniewski in the primary, with State Senator Ray Lesniak considering reentering the race. Tom Byrne, the son of former Governor Brendan Byrne, is also considering a run.