Family Drama in the Garden State

Two of New Jersey’s three statewide offices could be held by people living in the same mansion.

by Tracey Tully at the NY Times: Bricks of gold bullion. Envelopes filled with cash. Secret meetings with an Egyptian spy. These sordid details form the backbone of the bribery charges against New Jersey’s senior senator, Robert Menendez, a Democrat. In any other state, that would be enough drama. But in the Garden State, the scandal has uncorked an even more powerful political tempest.

Tammy Murphy, the wife of New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, is running for Menendez’s seat as a Democrat, buoyed by political leaders who are allied with her husband and dependent on his largess during his final two years in office.

The audacious play for a highly coveted seat has prompted critics to pan her candidacy as rank nepotism. She is up against Andy Kim, a popular three-term Democratic congressman from South Jersey, who is perhaps best known nationally for a viral photograph of him cleaning up the Capitol after the Jan. 6 riot. And Menendez, who has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges and faces trial in May, has been coy about whether he intends to seek re-election.

A family affair

If Murphy is elected, two of New Jersey’s three statewide offices would be held by people who share the same mansion. Murphy was a Republican until 10 years ago and has never run for office. She would be the first woman ever elected to the Senate from New Jersey, a history-making possibility she has emphasized.

Her Senate run has been roasted on social media. She has already replaced one campaign manager, swapping in a veteran strategist who has run campaigns for former governors: Andrew Cuomo of New York and Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine of New Jersey. And the stakes are also high for Kim: He can’t compete for re-election in the House while also running for the Senate. If he loses the June 4 primary, he is out of a job.

Kim has worked to yoke Murphy to what he refers to as the state’s “broken politics,” suggesting she is tapping the same party-boss energy that nurtured and protected Menendez.

The livelihoods of many of the first lady’s most influential supporters are tied to state government, making it hard to see where their support for her ends and self-preservation begins. Tom Malinowski, a former Democratic congressman from New Jersey who has endorsed Kim, said that town and county officials had told him that “they feel they have no choice but to support the first lady.” There is no need, he said, for an overt threat. “In most cases these people just assume that this is the way that the system in New Jersey works,” he said. “And if there’s a bill that they want to move through the Legislature, or a grant that they want to get, or a job that they might hold — all of that could be in jeopardy if they anger the first family of the state.”

The original article appeared in the NYTimes.

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