Former Assistant New Jersey Attorney General Shavar Jeffries is actively considering a challenge to Gov. Phil Murphy in the 2021 Democratic gubernatorial primary, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Jeffries, who ran a strong race for mayor of Newark six years ago, has made calls to some Democratic insiders expressing his interest in the race, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
He confirmed that in a short interview with the Globe on Tuesday evening.
“I’ve had a number of people reaching out to me about ways I can be helpful,” Jeffries said. “I’m still having these conversations. I don’t have any specific timetable. I’m still exploring. It’s early”
In his 2014 bid for mayor of Newark, Jeffries attracted financial and political support from allies of Democratic powerbroker George Norcross, although there is no evidence that South Jersey Democrats are involved in Jeffries’ fledgling statewide bid.
Jeffries declined to identify which individuals he has spoken with. Asked if he’s discussed a possible candidacy with Norcross, he said, “I can’t say that I have not spoken to him.”
On Wednesday morning, Jeffries clarified his statement, telling the Globe that he has not spoken with Norcross.
Jeffries, a former Newark school board president, won 46% of the vote against Ras Baraka, then a city councilman.
In that race, he had the backing of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and the powerful North Ward political organization. DiVincenzo endorsed Murphy for re-election to a second term earlier this month.
Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones, who will become state party chairman next year, said in December that he would back Murphy even if he has a primary.
Norcross told a reporter last year that Murphy should expect a primary challenge when he runs for re-election.
Jeffries appears ready to step up his political involvement in the future.
“I’m interested in ways in which I can lead in a variety of different capacities,” Jeffries told the Globe. “We’ll see how things work out. There’s a variety of different opportunities.”
A September 2019 Monmouth University poll had Murphy with a 71%-11% approval rating among Democrats, but with an unsteady 41%-38% approval rating overall.
If he runs, Jeffries has a compelling personal story: he was raised by his grandmother, a public school teacher, after losing his mother to violence. He attended public schools in Newark and attended Seton Hall Preparatory on a scholarship before graduating from Duke University and Columbia Law School.
After law school, he clerked for Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
The 45-year-old Jeffries is a partner at Lowenstein Sandler, a major North Jersey law firm that represented top Murphy staffers during legislative hearings into the hiring of Al Alvarez. He is a former Seton Hall law professor and was counsel to Attorney General Anne Milgram from 2008 to 2010.
As an assistant attorney general, Jeffries oversaw several multi-state investigations and had supervisory responsibilities for several areas, including the Division of Civil Rights.
At Seton Hall, Jeffries led a fight to apply an alternate funding formula that allowed urban charter schools to access supplemental funds allocated for area public schools.
He was an associate professor at the Center for Social Justice. He ran a litigation clinic that helped individual clients and class actions defend themselves against, among other things, overly broad government actions on issues related to individual rights and liberties.
Jeffries has a potential fundraising base through his post as president of Democrats for Education Reform, a national organization that lobbies for resource equity in education funding.