Early on in Gov. Phil Murphy’s first term, State Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Barrington) was no fan of the governor.
Murphy’s administration was at the time investigating subsidies for Camden-based corporations with ties to Democratic power broker George Norcross, a hugely influential figure in South Jersey politics. In response, Cruz-Perez and several other Camden-area politicians told Murphy that he wasn’t welcome in Camden at all unless he stopped his “attacks” on the city.
“As Camden’s representative in Trenton, I will continue to strongly advocate for the city and ensure that legislative and public initiatives originating in Trenton will benefit Camden just as they do North Jersey communities,” Cruz-Perez said in a statement from May 2019. “And if Phil Murphy is willing to work with us toward those goals, great. But if not, he shouldn’t come here.”
In the three years since, Murphy has apparently worked towards those goals enough to thaw the ice, as the governor held a press conference today in Camden alongside many of the city’s most prominent elected officials. (It also doesn’t hurt that the task force investigating the corporate subsidies has largely faded away.)
The conference, attended by Cruz-Perez, Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen, and a series of other Camden County Democrats, highlighted the millions of dollars directed towards Camden under the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. Cruz-Perez said after the conference had ended that she and Murphy now have a good relationship, and that he has been repeatedly welcomed back to Camden.
“We’re working in partnership,” she said. “He has been in the city so many times after that [2019 spat], bringing resources. And not only bringing resources but helping the city of Camden, helping the residents… We are a team, and I’m part of that team.”
Pressed for what exactly Murphy has done in the last three years to earn her favor, Cruz-Perez repeated herself.
“I have nothing else to say, except that we are a great team,” she said.
Murphy’s 2019 disinvitation was emblematic of broader struggles he once had with South Jersey Democrats, many of whom didn’t trust Murphy or his progressive policies. Norcross and former Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), South Jersey’s two most powerful Democrats, had particularly fraught relationships with Murphy during his early years.
But as Murphy’s first term wore on, especially after the Covid pandemic began, those relationships started to improve and public spats like the one with Cruz-Perez became far less common. And now, with Norcross’ power waning and Sweeney out of office, the legislature’s remaining South Jersey Democrats have less reason than ever to put themselves at loggerheads with the governor.