By JOHN T. WARD
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Middletown resident Phil Murphy moved closer to his goal Thursday when a key prospective primary contender decided to sit out the race.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he would not vie for the governorship as Murphy racked up dozens of endorsements from elected officials statewide Thursday, including Red Bank Democrats.
“It is no secret that I seriously considered running and I believe I would have been able to win the general election and return the governor’s mansion to Democratic control,” Sweeney said in an announcement. “As a proud ironworker for almost 40 years, I understood the hard work it would take to win. However, in the last few days it has become clear that Phil Murphy has been able to secure substantial support from Democratic and community leaders that would make my bid all but impossible.”
Sweeney’s announcement came amid a rash of endorsements for Murphy, including those of more than 120 elected officials and party leaders in Monmouth County, according to an announcement by county party chairman Vin Gopal.
Among those on board with Murphy, the announcement said, are Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna; Councilwoman Kathy Horgan; and Councilman Ed Zipprich, who serves as the local party head.
Sweeney told NJ Advance Media that he was being “a realist” in deciding not to vie to succeed Governor Chris Christie.
“The party is coalescing around Phil,” he told the news service. “I made a decision to run for re-election to the Senate. I have a lot of support from my colleagues in the Senate.”
Sweeney’s decision to sit out the race makes Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive who served as Ambassador to Germany, “the clear front-runner to win the Democratic primary, if not the governor’s office,” NJ.com reported, citing “experts.” Last week, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who was also expected to seek the Democratic nomination, announced he wouldn’t run.
The Bergen Record reported that Sweeney’s “clears a path” for Murphy to clinch the party’s nomination far ahead of next year’s primary.
Murphy is the Democrats’ only declared candidate so far, and “with a raft of endorsements over the last two weeks, it will be difficult for his remaining rivals to amass sufficient support to take the nomination, although state Sen. Ray Lesniak, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and the chairman of the state Investment Council, Tom Byrne, have all been exploring bids, among others,” the Record’s Sal Rizzo reported.
Murphy, 59, began laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run in 2014 with the formation of a policy group, New Start New Jersey. He later launched a more politically active organization, New Way for New Jersey. He, his wife, Tammy, and four children live in the Fairview section of Middletown.
Also backing Murphy locally, according to Gopal’s announcement: Fair Haven Councilman Aimee Humphries and Sea Bright council members Marc Leckstein and Charlie Rooney.