A few days before Phil Murphy took the oath of office as the 56th governor of New Jersey on Tuesday, he took a tour of Hudson County via public transportation. Starting in Hoboken, he boarded the mis-named Hudson Bergen Light Rail (since the line does not yet go to Bergen) for a seven-stop ride to Jersey Avenue in Jersey City.
Along the way, he talked to passengers about their concerns in an attempt to get a snapshot of the issues daily riders face when using NJ Transit. But in many ways the ride gave him a fictional view, since it took place on a weekend without the hustle and time pressure of the rush hour commute.
He probably didn’t have to stand at the Bergenline Avenue station to hear NJ Transit workers tell passengers that the station was closed and they would have to wait for shuttle buses that would never arrive. He didn’t have to throw away the already purchased and validated ticket they needed for the train, but could not be used on public buses that were touted as an alternative.
Murphy reportedly met with Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop at the Brownstone Diner before heading north to Union City and North Bergen, again using public transportation. But you can rest assured he didn’t have to deal with unenthusiastic transit workers who don’t answer questions, or to wait an hour for a bus only to have two finally come at the same time. He wasn’t taking a train during cold weather when the line may be shut down because of “signal problems,” and have to ponder the lack of capacity in the rail tunnels to and from Manhattan.
But Murphy’s trip did highlight his commitment to make the system better and force NJ Transit to become more accountable. He even took a stance against NJ Transit’s planned holiday vote in Hoboken that would turn the Union Dry Dock there into a repair facility for ferries, a project NJ Transit apparently hoped to squeak through under the former governor before Murphy took office.
The NJ Transit Board suddenly removed the item from the agenda the day before their meeting on Monday, Martin Luther King Day, which many Hoboken residents and officials attended to protest. Murphy was sworn in the next day.
His call for the resignation of many of the top officials at NJ Transit suggests that he intends to rebuild the beleaguered agency.
In a Tweet about the trip, Mayor Fulop said the city got three easy transportation wins.
“One, getting the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to have a more reliable and frequent PATH service,” Fulop said in a tweet. “Two, Jersey City will rebuild the [planned] Marion PATH Station via public/private partnership. We just need the green light. Three, to extend the light rail across route 440 to BayFront.”
The state has approved the next step, to extend the light rail from its current terminus at West Side Avenue to Route 440, which would open up a new Gold Coast in Jersey City along the Hackensack River waterfront.
A new day
Murphy and his wife spent more than a week on the road, criss-crossing the state. They made numerous stops in Hudson County, including a brief tour of the Boys and Girls Club of Hudson County to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They also came to help swear in county officials, including newly-elected Hudson County Clerk, Jr. Maldonado.
“Governor Murphy for many of us is the light at the end of the tunnel,” Maldonado said. “Eight long years of dubious political and electoral decisions brings us to a point where we’re excited about a governor who is progressive in his agenda, diverse in his cabinet, and charismatic in his personality,” Maldonado said in describing Murphy. “Hello a new day.”
West New York Mayor Felix Roque said he received a call from Murphy.
“We have become friends,” Roque said. “We’re extremely proud of him and believe he will bring greatness to the state. He is a man who is color-blind. He does not see people as white or black or Hispanic, he sees them as people. He will fight for immigrant rights and he will be good for our state.”
A friendly visit to the boys and girls club
Murphy’s wife helped kids at the Boys and Girls Club in Jersey City, greeting them and even sharing a lesson on CPR.
A small woman wearing a t-shirt for the Murphy campaign, Tammy Murphy did not look much different from the team of campaign workers who joined the club’s commemoration on Jan. 15. Like most events at the club, the ceremony was also education, as members of Jersey City Medical Center came to instruct students on the use of CPR.
“She and her husband picked two clubs in the state to highlight what we do for the community,” said Gary Greenberg , president of the club in Jersey City.
The Boys and Girls Club of Hudson County is the oldest club in the state originally founded in 1893.
Murphy and his wife have become symbols of a Democratic resistance to what they describe as “a cold hearted” national GOP social agenda.
Yet oddly enough, Tammy Murphy started out her political life as a registered Republican and voted for Republican candidates, including former President George W. Bush.
But she switched parties over her disagreement with the GOP’s stance on abortion, gun control, and the environment. Former Vice President Al Gore tapped her to become part of his environmental committee. During the gubernatorial campaign, she played such an active part in her husband election he called her his finance chair.
Although she and Phil worked at Goldman Sachs at the same time in 1987, they mostly passed each other in the halls. But after the death of Phil’s brother in 1993, Tammy reached out to him.
It was almost love at first sight and they were married a short time later.
A day after her visit to the boys and girls club, Tammy stood beside her husband as he was sworn in as the new governor.
Challenges Trump, against fighting
Murphy’s speech threw down the gantlet in challenging the GOP’s harsh social agenda.
He said his administration will “resist every move from President Trump and a misguided Congressional leadership that would worsen income inequality; or divide families or deny access to college for our Dreamers; or defund essential infrastructure; or gut health care for our children, seniors, and the working poor; or provide a tax windfall to giant corporations and billionaires at the expense of our working and middle-class families.”
Murphy said his administration opens a new chapter for New Jersey and fortifies his campaign promises to protect immigrants and the environment, and emphasis the importance of labor and progress that might be felt by all residents of the state.
“The work of our administration will be about you, your families, and your communities,” he said in a speech delivered after the swearing in. “We will never lose sight that we are one state and one family, with different beliefs but common dreams, and that we do not succeed unless we all succeed.”
Murphy said he will take a long view on issues.
“The public is tired of pessimistic and short-sighted thinking. They have rejected the politics of division, of ‘us’ versus `them’, and asked us to focus on ‘we’ – all nine million who call this great state home,” he said. “We have visited every New Jersey county, and met tens of thousands of people longing for leadership that will restore their confidence in the future of our state and their hold on the American Dream.”
He also included an economy that will create better jobs, higher wages and encourage the development of new industry and communities. This also includes funding for public schools and property tax relief, as well as affordable four year college education, and access to community colleges.
Bringing the party and state together
“Jersey City congratulates Governor Murphy on his inauguration, and looks forward to working together with the Murphy Administration to move our city and state forward,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.
Historically, the most important time for a president is the first year, in particularly the first 100 days, which sets the tone for whether the administration will achieve its goals.
While Murphy’s party controls both houses of the legislature, there is no guarantee that he will get what he needs done. Power struggles plague both house and personnel agenda could stand in his way.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said, “We have great expectations for governor Murphy and the democratic legislature. When you have much, much is expected of you, since Democrats have control of the state senate and assembly it is my hope that they will have a vigorous agenda to put New Jersey families at the center of their agenda.”
Donald Scarinci, a prominent attorney in Hudson County as well as the state, and the advisor to several previous Democratic governors, said he delayed a trip to Florida in order to be at the inauguration.
“Governor Murphy’s inaugural address was everything I had hoped for and more. It was inspirational,” he said, calling the use of the Kennedy family bible as a symbol of the administration’s intent. “The link to the Kennedys set an even higher bar than the goals and objectives he spoke about. His deliberate symbolic link to history yesterday shows how thoughtful and how serious the governor is about achieving what he has so clearly set out to achieve. This may very well be New Jersey’s Camelot.”
Like President John F. Kennedy, Murphy is setting the bar high, intending on accomplishing difficult things.
“He’s the first governor in quite some time that has assumed moral democratic leadership,” Scarinci said. “He’s taking the high road, talking about things that are core values to Democrats.”
The speech, Scarinci said, was Murphy’s declaration that he is the leader of the Democratic Party in New Jersey.
“This is what we stand for; this is our common ground; these are the principles and what we all agree are our core beliefs as Democrats,” Scarinci said. “He was gracious. And he said we’re done insulting people for believing different things that we do. This is his style; it is an inclusive style.”
Scarinci agreed that the danger is divisiveness within the party, but by having Murphy take over as leader, the party will have a direction.
“This is the first time since Jim McGreevey that we’ve had a leader as governor,” Scarinci said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.