Who in New Jersey Politics (and in NJ) Has Known Phil Murphy Longer Than Others?

Jon Corzine didn’t bother with relationship-building, simply bulldozing his way into office and offsetting a less than dazzling personality with mountains of cash, while Phil Murphy – obviously shaped by the same transactional Goldman Sachs worldview as Corzine – has nonetheless sought to personalize his advance on the Drumthwacket throne. 

He’s had to, in a sense, on the heels of his Goldman political predecessor.

Murphy, like Corzine before him, lacks deep relationships in New Jersey’s political world. So he has tried over the course of two politically electric campaign trail years to convey genuine interest in people. Corzine wore a snow-on-the-TV-screen expression in the presence of new faces. Murphy has tried to channel a different kind of people-centric receptivity, and a lot of those people – most of them Democratic Party types – delight in the routine receipt of personalized text messages from the front-runner for governor.

“He’s my friend!” right now is a common refrain, unmoored by jaundiced Gerry McCann doctrine. “He’s not your friend,” the former Jersey City Mayor used to caution up and coming politicos, speaking in general about the social world of his chosen trade. “He’s just someone you met in politics.”

If elected next week, Murphy would be the only NJ Governor-elect in at least a hundred years who did not first have experience serving in elected office – with the exception of Governor Richard J. Hughes, who was a judge prior to serving as governor; and Brendan Byrne, a judge and Essex County Prosecutor. Even Corzine had first served as a U.S. Senator before becoming governor. And Hughes and Byrne both had measurable NJ government bureaucratic service over a period of years.

Given such a history, and a period of time defined by Murphy’s own obvious and overriding ambition to be governor, a few handfuls of veteran insiders nurse a certain skepticism, candidly noting the absence of a record of deep and sustained relationships in politics in off the record conversations.

“Who is the person who has made the jump from one iteration of Phil Murphy’s career to the next – that Jiminy Cricket – not his wife – but someone outside his family who has stood by him loyally from one stage to the next?” one insider asked, unable to dredge a name.

InsiderNJ made some inquiries and came up with the following names of those people connected to NJ politics, or connected to NJ, who have known Murphy the longest, not necessarily the human connective tissue thread from one professional portion of his life to the next, but maybe the next best thing:

Dick Codey

“It’s the deepest relationship that Murphy has, going back at least to 2005,” said one Democratic Party source, referring to the former Acting Governor (and sitting state Senator from LD27) who appointed Murphy to chair the New Jersey Benefits Task Force. Codey and Murphy are friends, and have been connected socially and politically since the period of time when Codey served as governor. It’s a real relationship, the source said.

Jon Bon Jovi

No, the big-haired rocker – a candidate for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – is not a political figure, but sources say the Murphys and the Bon Jovis – both Monmouth County-based power couples – have known each other socially for 20 years, and have a real friendship. Based on spade work he did with Governor Chris Christie (and state Senator Joe Vitale) to decriminalize drug use in New Jersey, in addition to early, pre-primary campaign trail appearances he made on behalf of Murphy, Bon Jovi has consistently shown a genuine political side.

Joe Cryan

It’s not like the relationship Codey has with Murphy. But Murphy served as finance chair of the Democratic National Committee while Cryan served as chair of the Democratic State Committee. They liked each other, communicated and built a relationship. Cryan did signal an early interest in being with Steven Fulop for governor, but was able to happily pivot to Murphy after Fulop announced his decision to not pursue the governorship. Now Cryan, a former assemblyman and sitting Sheriff of Union County, stands poised to snag the 20th District Senate seat left behind by retiring Senator Ray Lesniak. Given the history and his ability to gell with an outsider like Corzine when it counted, look for Cryan to emerge quickly as a senate player with an allegiance to the incoming governor (if Murphy beats Guadagno).

Bradley Abelow

Corzine’s former Chief of Staff knew Murphy at Goldman Sachs and worked with him in Germany. A source told InsiderNJ that he saw Abelow recently in connection with a Democratic Party event. Even if there’s no deep connection there, Abelow by virtue of Goldman and government background is a bridge-like figure. But sources say they’d be shocked if Abelow, a finance industry guy who in 2007 replaced Tom Shea as Corzine’s chief of staff, returned to Trenton. “Not happening,” insisted a party source. “With Murphy, you will really see a concerted move away from those kinds of mistakes, like having finance guys crawling around the halls of the Statehouse. That explains the Peter Cammarano move. You may not agree with him, but you like him, and can’t discount his knowledge of Trenton.”

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