HACKENSACK – While he has yet to announce that he will officially be running for New Jersey governor in 2017, former Ambassador Phil Murphy appeared quite gubernatorial as he stood in the center of a circle of chairs at a Hackensack church meeting center. The event—a town hall—was reminiscent of the events that presidential candidates often host in primary states during their pursuits of the White House.
In his opening statements, Murphy addressed the terror attack in Brussels, Belgium. He addressed the challenge of “soft targets” for terror attacks, namely unsecured areas like subway cars. He also touched upon gun violence in the nation and his hope that no “big event” becomes politicized similar to how he said the issue of gun regulation has been approached.
“Let’s hope that the gun debate becomes a lot better nationally, as well as in this state where we ought to be better than that,” said Murphy.
After his opening statements, Murphy took off his suit jacket, loosened his tie and rolled up his shirtsleeves. He reminded the audience of his “middle class on a good day” beginnings in Boston. He talked about Robert Kennedy, his role model. And more importantly, he talked about the working poor, the need to build the middle class and the issues that need to be addressed in New Jersey in order to strengthen the state and the people who live here.
And, still, Murphy said his speech was about his non-profit, New Way for New Jersey, not a supposed run to succeed Republican Governor Chris Christie in the State House.
While the event was not political, Murphy, a Democrat, did make some “very partisan observations” about the sitting Republican governor.
“This governor… has taken this state 2 to 3 standard deviations away for the normal place,” said Murphy, claiming that Christie’s own ambitions have prevented him from serving the people of New Jersey effectively. “He has not looked out for us for a second.”
He also espoused left-leaning ideas like pushing back against the NRA and creating more gun regulations in the state.
According to Murphy, New Jersey needs to move forward in many areas so that people can be offered opportunities to succeed.
“I never dreamed I would have a successful business career or I would be on the head of the board of the NAACP nationally or that I would represent our country, or that I would meet the love of my life,” Murphy said as he asked his wife Tammy to stand for the audience. “I didn’t know where it was going but I knew it was going the way America would for kids like me.”
Additionally, Murphy talked about the failure of letting the Transportation Trust Fund default. He called the gas tax a “regressive tax” but also mentioned the merits of boosting the tax in the face of the crumbling roads and bridges in a state with the second-lowest gas tax in the nation.
He touted the merits of boosting the minimum wage not just for hourly workers, but for tip workers (minimum wage for tip workers currently sits at $2.13 per hour and has not been adjusted since 1991).
“If you want to address inequality in this state… raising minimum wage and raising the earned income tax credit would go hand in hand to making the greatest difference,” Murphy said.
Murphy also touched upon one of the greatest issues facing Millennials in New Jersey: student debt and college affordability.
“We are going to have real questions, soon, about why did I go to college?” Murphy said. To remedy the situation, Murphy proposed a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and a possible program that would encourage students to stay in the state by securing jobs in those fields.
Murphy, who is privately wealthy thanks to his time as an executive at the megabank Goldman Sachs, also called for complete wage transparency. He said that that change would foster a culture where equal pay for equal work was more achievable.
“We have got to stop just talking about this stuff. We have to do something about it,” Murphy said to applause. He called for comprehensive immigration reform, help for minority populations and equality for all.
After his remarks—which sounded a lot like a gubernatorial campaign speech—Murphy took questions from the crowd on topics like the TTF, securing a future New Jersey that will attract young people and concerns about education and teachers in the state.
“New Jersey is the single most under-managed asset I have ever seen,” Murphy said.
If he decides to run for governor, Murphy will probably face off against the likes of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Ray Lesniak to become the Democratic nominee to manage those assets. Events like the Hackensack town hall make it clear that the announcement of his candidacy is likely imminent.