Poking at president could hurt Gateway funding efforts

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Feb 6, 2018 at 10:03 am
Editor’s Desk

The elected leader, new to politics, is doing things differently — unwilling to adopt a game plan of politics as usual.

He’s ruffling feathers. Even among his own party.

No, we’re not talking about him.

We’re talking about Gov. Phil Murphy.

A few weeks into office, the new governor of New Jersey is doing things his way. And, except for one potentially growing mistake (more on that later), he’s getting his way.

Murphy not only has nominated cabinet members and key appointees faster than most, brought in people from out of state mostly without issue, and made a cabinet that (as he promised) reflects what the state looks like, he has deftly handled all of the politics-as-usual backlash.

Such as what he faced with his pick to head the Economic Development Authority, Tim Sullivan.

When Bill Mullen, head of the powerful New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council, barked at the selection of Sullivan, encouraging his fellow union leaders to make an attempt to block the selection, Murphy did nothing. Publicly.

Murphy was confident he had the votes (he does).

Murphy was confident this really was an effort by state Senate President Steve Sweeney to flex his muscles and prove he was a powerful player and that others would see through it (they did).

Skillfully, Murphy avoided the public fight.

So, why does he keep going after that other leader who is new to politics?

At every turn, Murphy has continued his attacks on President Donald Trump, rallying his base on key issues involving immigration and the environment.

But at what cost?

Members of his own party are now privately wondering: Doesn’t he realize he won the election and doesn’t need to keep doing that?

And, even more concerning: Doesn’t he realize he needs Trump to get what the state needs the most — funding for the Gateway Project?

Why, they wonder, does he keep poking the bear — especially one who seemingly makes decisions out of spite or to punish perceived enemies (which is anyone who doesn’t agree with him).

Gateway is a project that people on both sides of the aisle are longing for. Some are starting to wonder: Why do anything that could hurt its chances?

So far, Murphy hasn’t been hurt publicly by his criticisms of Trump.

His first approval ratings are what you might expect, with those approving nearly doubling those disapproving (35 percent to 21). The biggest number goes to those who said they still don’t have any opinion (40 percent).

Murphy needs to concentrate on that number now — building his backers instead of playing to those already firmly on his team.

Perhaps the easiest way would be to secure funding for Gateway.

To do that, he may have to change his ways. Meet Trump in the middle. Maybe even bend a little.

You know, politics as usual.