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Assemblyman Jamel Holley. Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe

Holley being urged to challenge Murphy in ’21 Democratic primary

Four-term Union County assemblyman says he hasn’t considered it, but wouldn’t rule it out

By David Wildstein, March 13 2020 1:59 pm

Assemblyman Jamel C. Holley (D-Roselle) acknowledged that he is being recruited to challenge Gov. Phil Murphy in the 2021 Democratic gubernatorial primary, and while saying he hasn’t really thought about it, he stopped short of ruling it out.

“There are several individuals who have suggested it to me,” Holley told the New Jersey Globe in a telephone interview.  “I have no immediate plans.  I haven’t considered it.  I haven’t given any thought to it. But there are conversations.”

Holley said Democratic leaders from all parts of the state have contacted him, although he did not identify who they were.

“Folks are approaching me – a considerable number of people,” he said.  “Elected officials, community-based people, clergy.”

Over the last year, Holley has developed a statewide following for his opposition to lifting the religious exemption for school vaccinations.  He raised about $100,000 at a January fundraiser headlined by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Holley emerged as a strong critic of Murphy last year, accusing the governor of inaction during Newark’s water crisis.  He also called out Murphy for playing politics for excluding him from a bill signing restoring voting rights that he sponsored.

He has also been an active advocate on social justice issues and his support of expungements.

Holley, 40, served as the mayor of Roselle before his election to the State Assembly in a 2015 special election convention to replace Joseph Cryan (D-Union), who was elected Union County sheriff.

If he does run for governor, Holley would need to give up his seat in the legislature.

“That’s a risk,” Holley said.

He is the second person being mentioned as a possible primary challenger to Murphy.

In January, the Globe reported that former Assistant New Jersey Attorney General Shavar Jeffries was considering a gubernatorial bid.

Holley said he hasn’t discussed next year’s campaign with Jeffries.

“I haven’t talked to Shavar in a while,” he said.  “The last time was when he ran for mayor (in 2014).”

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