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Former Assemblywoman Carol Murphy. (Photo: New Jersey Board of Public Utilities).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Corner

By Kevin O'Toole, April 19 2022 12:01 am

Wouldn’t this world be so much better, albeit more predictable, if we heard the word CORNER more frequently?

An odd way to start a column, I know.

Some context: I was at a restaurant recently and was seated in close proximity to the kitchen (my dear friend Brian was right about what happens when you leave politics). While dining, I noticed, and this seems to be a more recent phenomenon, the wait staff would say rather loudly and noticeably “CORNER” when close to or rounding an area in and out of the kitchen. It was particularly more obvious when one employee had a tray full of plates or food.

Not to date myself, but I remember from my youth working in a kitchen where employees would say “INCOMING” or something audible to warn others of traffic coming in from a blind spot.
This courtesy, or tradition, of warning ahead of potential danger seems rather logical and might have some practical applications in our everyday political, professional or personal life.

During my second stint in the Assembly, I had a wonderful minority leader, Alex DeCroce, who by all measure was an absolute prince of a human being. Alex was kind, smart, loyal and knew politics like few others. Alex literally died doing what he loved. He was at the helm of the Assembly Republicans on the very last night of a session negotiating votes and amendments to very weighty bills. And he suffered a fatal heart attack in the Capitol serving as a model legislative leader.

Alex was a legislative giant who treated staff, legislators, and others, as he wanted to be treated and he left this world too early, but leaving life lessons for us all. To this day, Alex was singularly the biggest loss to our state’s democracy and his shoes will never be filled.

During his term as leader, Alex appointed Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (Republican from Morris) to the important role of Conference Leader and Alex gave full authority to Assemblywoman Murphy to run the conference as she saw fit – and she ran it like a Swiss watch.

Each time we gathered in caucus (and we were considered a rather feisty group), there would sometimes be a clamor for a mutiny, or some other act of political audacity, from those of us seeking just a modicum of relevancy. In the middle of caucus, Conference Leader Murphy would get up and write two words on the blackboard at the front of the office – NO SURPRISES.  Eventually, those two words helped tame us, define us and focus us. While it took some getting used to, we soon all worked together, to serve a unified purpose, and we became relevant on some major issues. We pledged to band together and not let trivial disputes or irrelevant personal viewpoints or pontifications cloud the larger mission.

My recent experience at the restaurant got me thinking – wouldn’t it be cool if we could give fair warning when something was incoming or danger was lurking around the corner? It seemed to work in the restaurant industry, and the trial run in politics with Alex DeCroce and Carol Murphy was a major success.

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