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As he hacks through the unforgiving thicket of backroom New Jersey politics, Governor Phil Murphy this morning went for a political gravitas boost by sitting elbow-to-elbow with former Gov. Tom Kean.
“I’ve known Gov. Kean for 15 years,” said Murphy. “I consider him a mentor.”
“One of our greatest governors,” he added.
It might be the only thing Murphy could say that wouldn’t meet with the objection of former Gov. Chris Christie, a self-described Kean disciple.
By the end of his term, Kean was less than enamored of Christie’s state stewardship. It is said that on the golf course once, prior to 2017, just before driving a ball, he mentioned to onlookers that he thought Murphy would be a good governor.
Insiders regard Kean – an assembly speaker prior to serving as governor – highly in part because of his vote-harvesting acumen, precisely where Murphy finds himself challenged at present – and evidently lighting up the phones. He has a press conference scheduled for this afternoon to burnish progressive support for a signature piece to his legislative agenda: legalization of marijuana.
Simultaneously, Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) has a scheduled conference call with caucus members as he “counts noses” ahead of a Monday legalization vote. Sources say Coughlin’s there, or nearly there, but Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), a statewide Murphy rival, does not yet have the votes.
Dogged by Sweeney, the sitting Democratic governor sat with Kean at William Paterson University, where the pair hosted a roundtable discussion with students on New Jersey’s premier program to support low-income college students, the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF).
“Fifty years ago, then-Assemblyman Tom Kean helped create a landmark program to support low-income, first-generation New Jersey students seeking a college education – the Educational Opportunity Fund,” said Murphy. “Today, we pay tribute to former Governor Kean’s legacy by renewing our commitment to EOF and boosting funding in our proposed budget so more hardworking students may reach their goal of a college degree.”
“EOF is one of the nation’s most successful higher education programs,” said former Governor Thomas Kean. “I meet teachers, lawyers, mayors, and many others who are former EOF participants, and they tell me that they would not have achieved their success in life without EOF. I am pleased that Governor Murphy shares my enthusiasm for this vital program.”
Following the roundtable, Murphy urged “on-topic” questions only, offering an explanation of attempting to protect the iconic Kean from reporters in the room.
“The last thing I want to do is drag Gov. Kean through the mud of some of your off-topic issues,” the sitting governor cracked.
“God bless you, governor,” Kean said to a positively beaming Murphy.