Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop announced last week that he would not be pursuing the office of governor in New Jersey during the 2017 election. That announcement—and the fact that he endorsed former Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy for the spot—caused a significant dynamic shift in the race despite it still being over one year away.
So far, Murphy is the only announced candidate on the Democratic side in the race. Even so, South Jersey political boss George Norcross sits in still-unannounced candidate Senate President Steve Sweeney’s corner for the job. Other candidates on the Democratic side (like state Senator Ray Lesniak and Assemblyman John Wisniewski) are also considering throwing themselves into campaigns. But according to reports, most major political Democratic players are not consolidated behind any of the candidates.
According to sources, some are unhappy with Murphy’s ties to Goldman Sachs and, therefore, one-term Governor Jon Corzine who also is a former executive at the megabank. In terms of Sweeney, his recent battle with the New Jersey Education Association has made some consider him too damaged to get the nomination. Sweeney is also somewhat hindered by his close ties to Norcross who, according to sources, is facing some push-back from Democratic party chairs in north Jersey who don’t want to cede power to south Jersey and the powerful party boss through the election of Sweeney. The other candidates, while seemingly taking the race seriously, have less resources than either Sweeney or Murphy, meaning it could be difficult for them to gain ground ahead of the primary.
Norcross seems intent on pushing for Sweeney. According to sources, he has been traveling across New Jersey on Monday speaking with Democratic chairs in an effort to get them to pick Sweeney over Murphy. As it now stands, Passaic, Middlesex and Hudson seem prepared to go with Murphy but Norcross is hoping to bring those counties to the Sweeney side. In recent weeks—ahead of Fulop’s endorsement out of Hudson County—Murphy has been touting endorsements all around Bergen County including one from Assemblyman Gordon Johnson. However, according to one source, the party in Bergen is still not strongly behind the candidate.
“There really haven’t been a lot of people that have come out for Murphy at this point. There are 70 municipalities,” the source said adding that Murphy’s Bergen endorsements have come from council members in small towns (Dumont and Elmwood Park) and from Paramus Mayor Rich LaBarbiera without any of his council members. “This has been ‘C’ and ‘D’ level influence in terms of influence. I think the whole concept that Bergen is moving is a fallacy.”
With such uncertainty in terms of who to endorse, rumors are swirling that Norcross is exploring a potential compromise candidate if he finds that Sweeney’s NJEA woes are too much of a nonstarter across the state. One of the names that has been floated for that compromise is Bergen County Executive James Tedesco.
According to the Bergen source, however, Tedesco is not actively pursuing the position and had not had any direct communications regarding seeking the role.
“I think there were people that weren’t happy with the field before. I think they think the north could be in play and think ‘Who is someone the north couldn’t say no to?’ Tedesco is probably that person,” the source said. “I can see why that rumor exists.”
If a compromise candidate—Tedesco otherwise—were to break into the race and have a chance of winning, it would likely come as a consensus between party leaders from across the state. While the situation is still shaky, more endorsements from Murphy in the North could help lock up the top portion of the state for him.
The New Jersey gubernatorial primary will be held in June 2017.