Home>Governor>Gunaratna will leave Murphy staff to take a top post at national gun safety group

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

Gunaratna will leave Murphy staff to take a top post at national gun safety group

Governor’s communications director will join Everytown for Gun Safety

By David Wildstein, April 13 2022 10:17 am

Mahen Gunaratna, an architect of Gov. Phil Murphy’s communications strategy to take his messaging directly to New Jerseyans during a global pandemic, is leaving the administration on June 1 to take a top post at one of the nation’s largest gun safety advocacy groups.

Gunaratna will become the 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.

But he will remain a key player in Murphy’s political orbit beyond his departure as a board member of Stronger Fairer Forward, a non-profit issue advocacy group formed by the governor and First Lady Tammy Murphy in February.  He’ll also serve on the board of the Strong Fairer Forward PAC.

Gunaratna joined Murphy’s senior staff after the 2017 campaign and has been the governor’s communications director since he took office on January 16, 2018.   He worked for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, several members of Congress and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential race before going to work for Murphy.

At the start of the coronavirus crisis in March 2020, Gunaratna played a major role in putting Murphy directly in front of the state and the nation through regular televised press conferences and interviews on top national and state television and radio stations.

“From my first day in office, Mahen has served as one of my closest advisors,” Murphy stated. “From conveying vital public health information during a once-in-a-century pandemic to accelerating the growth of our digital and social media engagement, Mahen has brought vision and drive to our work.”

Gunaratna was a key player in Murphy’s Poolhouse Strategy, a plan that involved spending less than $20,000 to install a mini-TV studio at Murphy’s Monmouth County home that enabled the governor to secure network and cable television stations that offered him exposure that he could not get through a rapidly-diminishing traditional New Jersey press corps.

Murphy’s plan to inform the public of the state’s response COVID-19 helped his job approval ratings soar.  The communications plan developed by Gunaratna and others enabled Murphy to withstand a Republican tide and become the first Democratic governor of New Jersey in 44 years to win re-election to a second term.

George Helmy, the governor’s chief of staff, is running a search process to pick Gunaratna’s successor.

At Everytown, the group founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gunaratna will be responsible for executing a national gun safety strategy,

“With his deep experience at every level of government, Mahen is the right person to help Everytown spread the word about our work to pass lifesaving laws, create a culture of gun safety, and hold the gun industry accountable, both in the court of public opinion and the court of law,” said Everytown president John Feinblatt.  “I’m excited to work with Mahen, who joins Everytown on the heels of spearheading the communications around two landmark gun safety bill packages in New Jersey, which were passed with help from our grassroots army of volunteers.”

Murphy, a staunch gun safety advocate, said he was pleased that Gunaratna will have the chance to fight for his cause at a national level.

“From closing background check loopholes to strengthening anti-gun trafficking laws to fighting the proliferation of ghost guns, Everytown has been a tremendous partner in our mission of promoting commonsense gun safety,” said Murphy.  “I know Mahen will bring the same energy and sense of purpose that he brought to our team as he takes on this new challenge to reduce gun violence nationwide.”

This is Murphy’s third communications team departure this year, a common occurrence in a governor’s second term.  Dan Bryan, his senior advisor, left to run Stronger Fairer Forward and the Stronger Fairer Forward PAC.  Michael Zhadanovsky is now the communications director for Rob Menendez’s campaign for Congress in New Jersey’s 8th district.

“For too long, the gun lobby blocked even the most basic safety measures, but thanks to the work of over eight million supporters nationwide, the gun safety movement has made unprecedented progress.  Through victories at town halls and school boards, in statehouses, in corporate America, in the courts, and at the ballot box,” said Gunaratna.  “Everytown has helped change how Americans think of this public health threat.  I look forward to leveraging my experience and skills to continue building on these victories and reduce the scourge of gun violence across our nation.”

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