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Gov. Phil Murphy at a July 20 Press conference in Long Branch. (Photo by Nikita Biryukov)

Murphy won’t endorse first pro-Murphy assembly candidate

Governor, Senate President staying out of LD15 race

By Nikita Biryukov, July 20 2018 12:21 pm

Though Jeff Laurenti is running for Reed Gusciora’s Assembly seat to give the governor an ally in the legislature, Murphy on Friday declined to endorse him – or any of the other candidates seeking the seat.

“We haven’t weighed in on races,” Murphy said in a press gaggle following a conference on the signing of a bill banning smoking on public beaches. “I know Jeff. He’s a good man. I know the other folks who are looking at that. They’re good folks, and I think when you’re in a primary mode, the overwhelming amount of cases – notwithstanding your personal affection, your regard, whatever it may be – is I think you stay out of that.”

Laurenti, a former executive director of Senate Democrats who’s long since departed from his public work in politics, is running, along with five others, for the Assembly seat left vacant by Gusciora when he was sworn in as Trenton’s mayor earlier this month.

That departure deprived Murphy of one of his few allies in the legislature, and should someone other than Laurenti win the seat, it’ll likely go to someone with less full-throated support of the governor.

Still, while Murphy declined to issue an endorsement of any of the six candidates, he did mention Mercer County Freeholder Anthony Verrelli, the race’s apparent frontrunner by name, calling both him and Laurenti good candidates.

In addition to Verrelli and Laurenti, the candidates are Hopewell Township Mayor Kevin Kuchinksi, Ewing School Board member Carl Benedetti, Ewing-based activist Fatima Mughal and Benjamin Tew.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, who sponsored the bill signed Friday and was present at the press conference, demurred on the 15th-district seat in a similar fashion.

Sweeney, not asked directly about Laurenti as Murphy was, fell back on a favorite strategy: saying he didn’t have a vote in the race.

But, while Sweeney stopped short of issuing an endorsement to anyone, he named only one candidate in his answer. That name was Verrelli’s, whom Sweeney called a good friend.

When pushed on previous endorsements outside of his district, particularly his endorsement of Sen. Nicholas Scutari for Union County Democratic chairman, Sweeney cited friendship as his motivator.

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