Most Fridays, top members of Gov. Phil Murphy’s staff participate in a conference call with some of the governor’s outside political consultants.
It’s called the “Inside/Outside Call.”
At least eleven Murphy aides are on the inside part of the call: Chief of Staff George Helmy; Deputy Chiefs of Staff Joe Kelley, Justin Braz, Greg Petzold; and Deborah Cornavaca; Senior Advisor Dan Bryan; Communications Director Mahen Gunaratna; Chief Policy Advisor Kathleen Frangione; Press Secretary Alyana Alfaro Post; Senior Advisor Derrick Greene; and Stephanie Lagos, the First Lady’s Chief of Staff.
From the outside, there are at least five: Steve DeMicco and Brad Lawrence of Message & Media; Brendan Gill, Murphy’s former campaign manager; and Adam Alonso, the governor’s former Deputy Chief of Staff; and Jim McQueeeny, a lobbyist and former top aide to Frank Lautenberg. Prior to her departure earlier this month, Democratic State Committee Executive Director Liz Gilbert was also on the call.
“I refused to participate in these calls. They are basically the outside consultants telling the inside Governor’s office what they are doing wrong. Of course they have never governed and think its easy. They may give the worst advice I have ever heard,” Peter Cammarano, Murphy’s first chief of staff, told the New Jersey Globe. “My lack of participation or willingness to listen to them caused them to turn sour on me pretty early.”
It’s not immediately clear how much government information is shared with the consultants, since no minutes are kept of the Inside/Outside calls.
The role of Murphy’s outside advisors came into play this week, after the New Jersey Globe obtained an e-mail from DeMicco sent to a spokesman for Democratic powerbroker George Norcross about the governor’s decision to cut $5 million earmarked to Cooper Health Care from the state budget.
“No pain, no gain,” DeMicco wrote in what s might be interpreted as a validation of Senate President Steve Sweeney’s allegation that the Copper cuts – Norcross chairs the hospital board – were an act of political retaliation.
The line between Message & Media and state government is a bit murky.
Sources say that Lawrence was actively involved in writing Murphy’s 2019 State of the State address. A big part of that speech was dedicated to the governor’s attack on tax incentives approved by the embattled Economic Development Authority during the administration of Gov. Chris Christie.
DeMicco and Lawrence’s firm also runs New Direction New Jersey, a Murphy-allied dark money group that advocates on behalf of the governor’s agenda.
Murphy often holds his political meetings at the DeMicco/Lawrence offices in New Brunswick.
He isn’t the first governor to have meetings with easy-to-understand code names.
Christie held Red/Green meetings before any gubernatorial appointments would be made.
Staff would arrive at the meeting with binders full of resumes and would go appointment-by-appointment with Christie, famously a micromanager who demanded that even the smallest detail be approved by him.
Christie would sit at the head of the conference table, usually with a Diet Coke and a bag of pretzels, and literally give the green light (go) or a red light (stop) on each individual appointment.
This story was updated at 8:41 AM.