Full Disclosure: Reversing the famous Shakespearean quote of Mark Antony regarding Julius Caesar, I came to praise Tom Moran, not to bury him.
For many years, I admired Tom, presently the editor of the Star-Ledger, as an independent thinking, public reform motivated journalist – in spite of a rather unpleasant telephone exchange I had with him shortly after I was appointed as United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Region 2 Regional Administrator by President George W. Bush in 2005.
When I took office, I made it clear to my staff at Region 2 EPA and to my management at EPA Headquarters in Washington that my major New Jersey priority would be the total remediation of the Passaic River Superfund Site, then one of the two most polluted rivers in the nation. During my tenure and prior to my departure when Barack Obama was inaugurated as President in January, 2009, we made substantial progress in establishing the framework and methodology for the Passaic River cleanup.
Shortly before I left office, I was honored by the New Jersey Sierra Club for my work on the Passaic River. I regard this as the major honor I received during my years in Federal and New Jersey government. I valued this honor not only due to my commitment to the cause of the Passaic River but also because of the high regard I have for the Sierra Club and its executive director Jeff Tittel, a man uniquely skilled in the understanding of the confluence of environmental law, environmental policy, and environmental politics.
So imagine my surprise when I received a phone call from Tom Moran, then a reporter for the Star-Ledger early in my tenure. He began the phone call by excoriating me for EPA’s inaction on the Passaic River prior to my arrival. He kept emoting in a loud voice, “I want to scream! I want to scream!”
I did not take very well to Tom’s off-the-rails verbal abuse, and I told him so in no uncertain terms, in the Trumanesque colorful language for which I have become renowned in New Jersey politics. Tom got the message, and for the rest of my EPA tenure, he never telephoned me in such fashion again. In fact, down through the years, I came to respect his political courage, particularly his fearlessness in confronting and criticizing Chris Christie for his abuses of power during his administration.
I thought of this yesterday as I read Tom’s Star-Ledger column published this past Sunday, “Amy Kennedy’s win is no progressive surge in New Jersey.”
This column, politically speaking, is one of the most inane, factually inaccurate, and least insightful editorials I have ever read. Before I get into the reasons why, I want to make a comparison between the Tom Moran who authored this column and Howard Beale, the principal character in the 1976 movie, Network, played by Peter Finch.
The Tom Moran who called me in a state of overwrought emotion at the beginning of my EPA days was a virtual duplicate of Howard Beale at the beginning of Network, who emoted on the air “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!”
The Tom Moran who authored the above-mentioned column has been distinguishing himself as a shameless apologist of George Norcross III, minimizing the extent of the recent primary election repudiation of the South Jersey Political Boss and inaccurately deriding the politically reform credentials of the landslide winner, Amy Kennedy. In this editorial, Moran, like Beale at the end of Network, disgustingly mouths the message of the special interest, in this case, George Norcross III.
This was not the first time Moran acted as if he were a flack for George Norcross III. Check the following two Moran 2019 columns, in which he lionizes the Democratic boss of South Jersey as a public-spirited citizen, creating a miraculous transformation of Camden:
“Is George Norcross helping Camden or himself?”
“Parsing the blood feud as Norcross sinks teeth into Murphy.”
When you read these two columns, you develop the impression that as editor of the Star-Ledger, Tom Moran is transforming one of New Jersey’s historic newspapers of record into a house propaganda organ for the Empire of George Norcross.
There are currently pending investigations by a task force created by Governor Phil Murphy regarding allegations of fraud in the procurement of EDA tax incentives in Camden. Allegedly, these tax incentives have substantially benefitted Norcross, his family, and his political allies. While Moran does not exonerate Norcross on these charges, he does claim that these investigations have been unfairly conducted.
Such charges by Moran do not fall outside the boundaries of acceptable journalism, although his contentions of unfairness in the conduct of the investigations do indicate a pro-Norcross inclination on his part. But then, he makes a contemptible, deplorable, and factually unfounded allegation against Phil Murphy on the corporate incentive issue.
Specifically, he contends that Phil Murphy’s rhetoric regarding the Norcross tax credits is hypocritical, given the fact that Murphy himself in the past as a private citizen has supported corporate incentives for Goldman Sachs in Jersey City and as governor for Amazon. This is an odious comparison by Moran and a vile smear of the governor’s character. Unlike the Norcross situation, there is not a scintilla of evidence or even any allegation of fraud by Phil Murphy connected with his advocacy of incentives in either of these two cases. This is, plain and simple, trash journalism on Moran’s part.
And Moran carried this pattern of pro-Norcross factually loose journalism into the New Jersey Second Congressional District Democratic Primary.
Under Moran’s leadership, the Star-Ledger Editorial Board endorsed the Norcross machine supported candidate, Brigid Callahan Harrison over Amy Kennedy. (https://www.nj.com/opinion/2020/03/our-pick-in-the-2nd-district-brigid-callahan-harrison-editorial.html). This editorial claimed that “Harrison has pulled out to a considerable lead for the nomination, with six of the eight county chairs already committed to her.”
This claim by Moran of Harrison frontrunner status was totally unsupported by any independent poll. This is further evidence that in support of his fealty to Team Norcross, Tom Moran will not let the facts get in the way.
The election is now over, and Amy Kennedy has triumphed in a landslide over the Norcross machine. Yet in last Sunday’s above-mentioned column, Moran derided Amy Kennedy’s credentials as a reformer and minimized the impact of her remarkable victory over the Norcross machine.
He even insinuates that the Kennedy victory and the disunity created by her triumph over the Norcross machine is good general election news for Donald Trump and his anointed Republican candidate, erstwhile Democrat and incumbent Representative Jeff Van Drew. This nonsensical Moran assertion implies that Amy should have never run but instead meekly submitted to the judgment of King George III and refrained from running against Brigid.
Such a Moran claim flunks any political laugh test. For years, George Norcross III proudly brandished his friendships with Donald Trump and Roger Stone. And Tom can tell you with a straight face that Trump preferred a Kennedy victory to a Norcross machine triumph?
Moran also ludicrously minimizes the victory of Kennedy, Phil Murphy’s endorsed candidate, as a “modest win” win for the governor. Please, Tom, PLEASE. The Kennedy landslide was the fourth in a series of Murphy victories over the Norcross machine forces that have thoroughly eliminated all chances of GNIII sponsoring a credible challenge to Murphy in the 2021 Democratic gubernatorial primary.
The three prior Murphy triumphs over Norcross and his legislative enforcer, State Senate President Steve Sweeney include: 1) the Murphy-led campaign that gave the Democrats control of the Somerset County Freeholder Board in the 2019 election, as contrasted with the Norcross/Sweeney failures in that election in the First Legislative District (Cumberland/Cape May); 2) the abortive attempt by Norcross to oust State Democrat Chair John Currie; and 3) the courage of Murphy in insisting on amendment of state tax incentives to preclude businesses affiliated with Norcross from deriving a disproportionate benefit. Did Moran sleep through these Murphy political thrashings of Norcross?
Perhaps the most pathetically silly aspect of Tom’s Sunday opinion piece was his sore loser derision of Amy Kennedy as a fake progressive reformer. The gravamen of his attack on Amy’s liberal reformer credentials was his statement that Amy is “no AOC”, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Socialist, anti-Israel Congresswoman from Queens-Bronx.
Well, thank God, Amy Kennedy is no AOC! What Tom Moran fails to recognize is that the terms “progressive” and “reformer” mean different things in different contexts. And in New Jersey, both the terms “progressive” and “reformer” have come to signify three behavioral aspects.
The first is opposition to political boss rule. In this regard, Amy has been the ULTIMATE progressive reformer, running and triumphing against a total Norcross subordinate acolyte in Brigid Harrison. The various New Jersey progressive grassroots organizations, including NJ Working Families Alliance, overwhelmingly endorsed Amy Kennedy on account of her anti-machine orientation.
The second is advocacy of competitive and deserved pay and benefits for state employees and public-school teachers. Amy Kennedy, a former school teacher herself, has been a staunch advocate of proper compensation levels for these public servants. This is why she received the endorsement in the primary of both the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and the major public employees union, the Communication Workers of America.
The third is advocacy and adherence to an activist liberal reform agenda, which is exactly the policies Amy advocated in the primary, as shown by this page from her primary campaign website:
Among the policies Amy supported were guaranteed paid family leave, universal health coverage, public option to buy into Medicare, empowering Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies, net zero carbon emissions by 2050. And Tom Moran claims that Amy Kennedy is not a reformer.
I don’t know who has influenced Tom Moran to parrot the Norcross line. In any event, his political enchantment with George Norcross III has hardly enhanced his journalistic credibility. In the near future, however, Tom will have the opportunity to leave the orbit of Norcross influence and merit once again the reputation of an independent thinking reformer journalist.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.