The New Jersey political class has lost a giant today.
Jamie Fox, former chief of staff to Jim McGreevey, has died at 62. In a career that spanned not just decades of politics but also both parties, Fox also worked for Democrats Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine and also served as Transportation Commissioner in the cabinet of Chris Christie, our Republican governor. Fox, a perennial on PolitickerNJ’s PowerList and No 1 in 2003, served at the Port Authority, and ran Obama’s Florida campaign as a Senior Advisor and started Fox-Shuffler, the powerhouse lobbying firm that he founded with his close friend and fellow McGreevey graduate, Eric Shuffler.
Gov. McGreevey told PolitickerNJ, “Jamie was a good man, among the best. He believed in the possible, the ability of government to achieve good things, the hope to achieve our better angels. Jamie was his father’s son, who was a basketball coach and a Marine. Jamie wanted to win; yet, he was also blessed with the ability to distinguish between the professional and personal. He would always lend a helping hand regardless of a person’s affiliation or tribe; he understood we are each human trying to do our best.”
It is a sad reality of the obituary that one’s most notorious moments must be included alongside one’s accomplishments, regardless of how unevenly the latter outnumber the former.
So, for a guy who would deserve a place in the hearts of New Jerseyans had he done nothing else but straighten out the DMV situation and launch the beloved EZ Pass System, it is also necessary to mention an unfortunate chapter, which was one of the last.
Last year, federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Fox, who was a lobbyist for United Airlines, related to the notorious “chairman’s flight” that United Airlines arranged for the summer-home convenience of David Samson, then the chairman at the Port Authority. Fox was supposedly at the dinner when Samson and United executives arranged the ill-fated flight. It is difficult to imagine that alone being enough to earn this proud Union Township guy, a product of Elizabeth’s Saint Patrick High School and Villanova University, a trip to prison, especially when so many larger figures seem to have been whisked away on a bright yellow “get out of jail free” card.
For a guy who did battle on the nasty front lines of Jersey politics, Fox was unusually well-liked. The often scathing Tom Moran penned a moving and personal remembrance of Fox for the Star Ledger this afternoon, while experienced political advisor Bob Sommer put it succinctly to PolitickerNJ: “Jamie was the best. Smart, focused, effective. And a friend. He can’t be replaced.”
Charles Kushner, who knew Fox well from both the Port Authority and from his support of and friendship with McGreevey, told PolitickerNJ that he will miss a man he considered both “warm and sincere, but also tough and professional. I really liked Jamie and we had a good relationship.” (Mr. Kushner is an investor in Observer Media, which owns PolitickerNJ.) And in a show of bipartisan respect that’s sadly rare in today’s divided climate, Mike Duhaime, longtime GOP operative from NJ and Gov. Christie’s chief strategist and now an executive at Mercury, told PolitickerNJ, “Jamie was a fierce competitor who fought for causes, issues and people he believed in, but he was also able to share a friendship and mutual respect with those on the other side of the political aisle. Jamie was old school in that being a political adversary did not mean you were enemies.”
Governor McGreevey added a final thought that contributes a meaningful distinction between the personal and the professional: “Jamie took government and his position seriously, but not himself. His humor and wisdom were always a welcome respite.”