Click play for audio version of this story
A lobbying group owned by the law firm representing Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign alleged in a website post that allies of the governor threatened to withhold funds from Hunterdon County Democrats unless they support John Currie for re-election as state party chairman.
But at some point after the post went live last Tuesday, Duane Morris Government Strategies pulled their 949-word treatise of New Jersey politics from their website.
The lobbying firm reported that pressure is being placed on county chairs.
“A notable example was with the Democratic party of Hunterdon, which was reportedly threatened with their November 2019 election GOTV funding if they did not pledge allegiance to Currie in the wake of an onslaught of pressure to endorse Jones,” Duane Morris wrote.
According to the post, “pushing counties to take sides was in full force” at the New Jersey League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City two weeks ago.
“Murphy aides, guides, allies, and staffers were found at incongruous country parties holding quiet 1-1 hushed conferences with key county figures and chairs,” the Duane Morris post said.
Duane Morris partner, Paul Josephson, works for Governor Murphy and advises John Currie
The counsel to the Murphy campaign, Paul Josephson, is a partner at the Duane Morris law firm. The lobbying firm lists Josephson as one of five government affairs agents registered with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Josephson is among a small group of political advisors on Currie campaign strategy calls, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
The author of the post is unknown.
“A young staffer drafted the article,” said Eric Martins, the managing director of the Duane Morris lobbying shop. “There was too much editorializing, too many opinions, so it got pulled.”
Martins declined to identify who the staffer was, or who authorized the removal of the article from the firm’s website.
He said he was unaware of the article on the website of the firm he runs until contacted by the Globe on Monday morning.
The fight for control of New Jersey’s Democratic Party
The assessment of the race between Currie and Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr. was part of a “New Jersey League of Municipalities 2019 Roundup” on the Duane Morris Government Strategies website, statecapitallobbyist.com.
“As one can imagine, with so many powerful and influential people in one place, and often following the election season, this is where deals get made, careers blossom or end, and alliances are forged,” the unnamed Duane Morris staffer wrote. “This year was no different, especially with New Jersey undergoing a state-wide political struggle, a festering state Democratic chairmanship fight in the works, and an election that shocked the state’s Democratic party.”
The Duane Morris staffer suggested that Murphy didn’t fare well in last month’s general election and implies that the governor could have a problem in the next election.
“All of this talk, scheming, and plotting took places [sic] as Democrats were still recoiling from losing seats and possibly momentum in the New Jersey midterm elections. Battleground districts in the extremes of the state flipped back from Blue to Red, after hard fought turns to Blue in the 2016 elections,” the post said. “People openly wonder what this means for the state’s Democrats and Murphy’s potential reelection. So, there was plenty for Democrats to talk and worry about between solidifying alliances in Atlantic City.”
Governor Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney, and “redevelopment magnate” George Norcross
The analysis also reported on the ongoing political war between Murphy and two powerful Democratic powerbrokers, Senate President Steve Sweeney and George Norcross, who was described as a ‘South Jersey redevelopment magnate.”
Murphy, the post says, “upended the political establishment during his campaign, challenged both Sweeney and Norcross’s power throughout his campaign and term, and prevented Sweeney from achieving what seemed to be his manifest destiny in the governorship.”
“Sweeney hasn’t forgiven that and has made it his life’s work to make sure Murphy and his administration rue they [sic] day they decided to muscle him out of the Governor’s race,” the Duane Morris staffer reported. “Additionally, Norcross does not appreciate not getting his way, especially in places and area’s that he considers his turf.”
According to the unnamed Duane Morris staffer, Murphy has the backing of progressive groups like the Working Families Party and Blue Wave NJ, “many of whom who have continued to ally themselves with Murphy, while also railing against the corruption they see as embodying Sweeney/Norcross politics.”
“Immediately before (the) League, this conflict came to a head in hearings on the New Jersey Economic Development Authority programs and tax incentives, many of which in South Jersey have been channeled into Norcross owned pockets,” the Duane Morris essay said. “With Sweeney and other Norcross friendlies running the hearings, it was unclear whether these would be purely performative or actually substantial when they called George himself to testify publicly.”
The unidentified Duane Morris aide said that senators allied with Norcross had Sue Altman, the state director of Working Families, “physically dragged out of the public hearing by state troopers and the doors to closed to bar others from entering what had been moments ago a public hearing.”
“These events were well documented by by-standers and media sources, who along with anti-South Jersey politicos, have been reluctant to let the issue or even leave the spotlight,” the Duane Morris post said. “Sue, to her credit, has whipped her progressive outreach and media machine into gear since the event, garnering criticism of the proceedings from everyone from Governor Murphy himself to Elizabeth Warren.”