An unusually enraged Gov. Phil Murphy today smacked down Atlantic County Surrogate James Curcio for calling on the state to reopen “immediately without restrictions” and “untie the hands of the private sector so it can rescue New Jersey from this nightmare.”
“Nineteen persons have died for COVID in Atlantic County,” Murphy said during his daily briefing today. “That is irresponsible. We ‘untie the system’ right now, there will be blood on our hands. And I want to make sure folks understand that.”
In a Facebook post, Curcio told the state to “trust American freedom ingenuity and the U.S Constitution.”
The Republican judge’s comments, which come at a time when protests against gubernatorial shelter-in-place orders have led to protests in state capitals across the nation, caused Murphy to hit the roof.
“This is literally life and death. What we need now if responsible leadership. We do not need irresponsible leadership. We need responsible leadership,” Murphy said. “Anybody out there who thinks that ‘let’s just open the place up’ will lead to lower infections, lower hospitalizations, and lower fatalities is being completely, utterly irresponsible.”
Shortly after Murphy’s statements, Curcio moderated his stance.
“I added the words ‘with sensible restrictions’ to this post,” he said.
Curcio’s call for an immediate reopening of the state is not without local support.
“Absolutely right,” Atlantic County Freeholder Frank Formica in a social media post. “Nothing should have ever been closed in the first place.”
Formica said that the “suspension of Constitutional rights of Americans over this virus is questionable if not unacceptable.”
“I think demonstrations and civil disobedience will increase all over the nation including in New Jersey as people start to worry more about their own affairs rather than the effects of the virus.
South Jersey radio personality Harry Hurley said he agreed with Curcio, and put some of the blame on Republicans who control Atlantic county government.
“The problem is that Atlantic County leadership has disappeared during the most significant crisis of our lifetime,” Hurley wrote on Facebook.
Curcio’s statements could wind up becoming an election issue as he seeks re-election to a third term this year.
“He has no reason to be commenting on this in his official capacity,” said Stephen Dicht, an attorney who is seeking the Democratic nomination to take on Curcio in the fall. “How can any public official be so irresponsible?”
Depending on where public opinion is when voters go to the polls in November, Curcio’s Saturday Facebook post could either propel him to victory or cost him his election.
In 2017, Republican Freeholder John Carman lost his seat after he shared a social media meme mocking the Women’s March on Washington. The meme said: “Will the women’s protest end in time for them to cook dinner?”
“I don’t know anyone who is happy with the status quo. But almost universally people accept these drastic measures are needed to save lives,” said Dicht. “It’s curious that the man charged with the administration of estates in Atlantic County acts so cavalierly with human lives.”
Dicht said others are looking into filing a judicial ethic complaint against Curcio, who handles wills and estates as the county surrogate.
Murphy has doubled down on his view that social distancing will stop the spread of the deadly virus.
“Trust me on this. Trust us on this,” he said. “We are doing this to try and keep infections as low as we can, keep hospitalizations as low as we can, and please god, keep fatalities as low as we can, and we will continue to do just that.”