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Gov. Phil Murphy, right, with his Communications Director, Mahen Gunaratna, in 2019. (Photo: Office of the Governor.)

Gunaratna returns as Murphy’s communications director

By David Wildstein, January 17 2023 10:05 am

Mahen Gunaratna is returning to his post as communications director to Gov. Phil Murphy after spending the 2022 midterm elections at one of the nation’s largest gun safety advocacy organizations.

Alex Altman, who served as Murphy’s acting communications director, will return to her position as deputy communications director.  On her watch, Murphy maintained strong job approval ratings – an unusual occurrence for a governor in the early part of a second term – and is well-liked and respected by statehouse reporters.

Altman has been with the Murphy administration for five years.

Gunaratna joined Murphy’s senior staff as communications director on January 16, 2018.   He previously worked for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, several members of Congress and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential race before coming to New Jersey.

He departed on June 1 to become chief public affairs officer and senior vice president of Everytown for Gun Safety, along with  their two grassroots networks, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action.

During his first 53-month tenure on Murphy’s staff, Gunaratna helped design a messaging strategy that enabled the governor to speak directly to the people of New Jersey during the COVID pandemic.   The plan helped Murphy become the first Democratic governor in 44 years to win re-election to a second term.

His return is effective today.

The Murphy communications staff had seen a number of changes since the end of the 2021 campaign, something that typically happens in a governor’s second term.  Dan Bryan, who had served as a senior communications advisor,  now heads  Stronger Fairer Forward, a non-profit issue advocacy group formed by Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy in 2022, and the Stronger Fairer Forward PAC.  Murphy’s press secretary, Alyanna Alfaro, departed last October for a leadership post at PSEG.  Megan Coyne left in August to join President Joe Biden’s staff as deputy director of platforms, where she manages the White House social media accounts.  Michael Zhadanovsky moved to Rob Menendez’s campaign staff in March and now serves as communications director for the congressman.

Another veteran communications staffer, Jen Sciortino, joined the governor’s office last month as a senior advisor.  The Bordentown mayor had been communications director for the New Jersey State Treasurer.

Last year, Christi Peace moved from the Assembly Majority Office to serve as Murphy’s deputy press secretary, and Natalie Hamilton joined the governor as a press assistant after working as an intern.

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