At the Election Night Party for Governor Phil Murphy and his Democratic team, the pandemic seemed like a distant memory. The large crowd stood shoulder-to-shoulder inside Union’s Galloping Hill Inn to celebrate Murphy’s Primary win. Barely anyone wore masks. No one was required to since the Governor lifted the indoor mask mandate right before Memorial Day weekend to stay in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
With a flick of a light switch, the Democratic political machine was back in full force, touting victories.
“Today was not one that I necessarily thought was in doubt but it’s still really gratifying on Election Night when you have that satisfaction of winning,” Murphy said, “when you’re standing with other winners.”
By Murphy’s side: State Senator Joseph Cryan, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano and new Assemblyman Reginald Atkins. They all won their races.
“I’ll tell you what else is on the ballot even if it isn’t in name,” said Murphy, referring to how he says Republicans handled the Coronavirus, “Truth is on the ballot. We make decisions based on the facts, the science, the data.”
Murphy also highlighted what he called his other accomplishments, including legalizing marijuana and protecting the working class.
“Think of how much we have done already together,” Murphy told his supporters. “Minimum wage at 15 dollars an hour, tax equity where the wealthiest pay their fair share. We’re funding and protecting women’s health. We have reformed the criminal justice system.”
The Governor, though, told a group of reporters outside he knows it’s a tough battle ahead facing his Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli.
“Every battle in politics is tough but we’re going to run as if we’re ten points behind,” the Governor said. “We didn’t have an opponent in the primary but that did not mean that we did not take it seriously to get our message out, and we’ll do the same in the General Election, and I’ll congratulate Jack when I get in the truck and we’ll get at it instantly. There will be no time to put our feet up!”
New Jersey residents are also eager to leave the pandemic in their rearview mirrors. The Coronavirus killed 26,295 people in the Garden State. Thousands found themselves unemployed. Small businesses and restaurants teetered on the brink of disaster, some shutting down permanently. Senator Cryan says Murphy responded like a political leader.
“If you own a small business in New Jersey, there’s help for you,” Cryan said. “If you own a mid-sized business, there’s help for you. What you’ve seen in the state budget, not only no new taxes, but increased educational aid.”
But by November, COVID-19 may not be on voters’ minds. Skyrocketing property taxes and the high cost of living in New Jersey will.
“I don’t think people are going to forget,” Cryan said. “The Primary Election was all about the response to COVID. Did you care about people? Did you have their backs? I think Phil Murphy answered that question incredibly well. I think the people of New Jersey said, ‘whether I agree with him or not, I know what he is trying to do and I know he cares about me.’”
But Murphy’s been criticized for the high number of COVID deaths at New Jersey’s Long-term care facilities, nursing homes and state-run Veterans Homes. More than 8,000 residents lost their lives. He also faces other challenges, including the violence against female inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women. At least 10 guards have been charged with attacking and sexually assaulting women.
“When we have seen problems, we have acted, and when this awful event took place at Edna Mahan, I immediately established an independent investigation,” Murphy said. “That investigation put a report out a couple of days ago. We’ve already said we’re going to close the facility and we are going to institute a whole series of reforms. The commissioner submitted his resignation this morning and I wish him nothing but the best but I hope we can use this knowledge of this awful experience and this independent investigation and build on that and put these reforms that are real in place.”
We also asked the Governor about new Census Bureau Data that shows New Jersey and four other Democratic-leaning states having the most segregated school districts in the nation.
“We inherited a state that was broken, including it didn’t grow and it was extraordinarily unfair,” Murphy told InsiderNJ. “We’re in the early years of the 5th Century since slavery came to our shores. We’re decades after the war on drugs and lots of decisions that took place before we got here that led to the reality we see. We’ve been fighting that from day one and continue to fight it.”
The Governor hasn’t said how he’ll fight to stop school segregation in the state. But he adds the pandemic’s highlighted inequities and he’s the candidate who’ll fight to end racial injustice.
As to whether Murphy will stick around if he wins in the General Election – that remains to be seen. Insiders say he may have bigger plans like running for President.