Chris Christie and Phil Murphy are really going at each other now

Updated Oct 06, 2019

The war of words between former Gov. Chris Christie and current Gov. Phil Murphy has really heated up.

The attacks launched by the never-shy Republican and the publicly cheerful sitting Democratic governor hit a new high in the past few weeks, getting more pointed and personal. Christie said Murphy was engaged in “political theater” and that he couldn’t get things done with fellow Democrats. Murphy said Christie “basically ruined the state.”

Christie had long broken his vow to not talk publicly about Jersey politics after he left office, declaring in April he gave Murphy “15 months of (his) silence” and that he planned to “go out and start having some fun.”

Murphy had previously tried to shrug off Christie’s attacks. But he’s changed course and took his strongest shots yet at his predecessor over the past few weeks.

Irony of ironies: Some of volleys were lobbed at the tail end of the inaugural event at the new Christie Institute for Public Policy at Seton Hall — which Christie formed to focus on bipartisanship and civility in politics.

Here’s what’s behind the back-and forth:


Christie started things off by accusing Murphy of engaging in “political vengeance" for launching a high-profile investigation how the state’s Economic Development Authority doled out lucrative tax incentives during Christie’s time in office. Murphy has said the program was abused and must be completely revamped.

“It’s political theater by a guy who understands theater and who needs a show to distract from the fact that the major things he ran on he simply hasn’t accomplished even though he has a Legislature of his own party,” Christie said.

A day later, Murphy shot back.

“With all due respect to the guy who basically ruined the state, ravaged the middle class, the notion about no accomplishments," Murphy said. "We have the No. 1 public education system in America, we have the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the state, we are investing in public education and transportation, which Gov. Christie underfunded if not bankrupted.”

Christie’s theater reference was a punch at Murphy’s days as an actor while studying at Harvard University. The governor originally wanted to perform in musical theater.

But as for the claim of the investigation into the EDA being political theater?

A governor’s task force, after a series of hearings earlier this year, issued a report in June that found the EDA did not have adequate procedures in place to vet applications for those incentives. It also concluded that the legislation that created the multi-billion-dollar program was largely shaped by special interests — including many close to South Jersey political powerbroker George E. Norcross III.

And last month, economists and other experts who testified before lawmakers said the state’s incentive awards were twice the national average. They argued New Jersey can get “more bang for the buck” by targeting economic development programs in different ways, and that incentives rarely, if ever, pay for themselves.

The way the program was administered also sparked state and federal investigations. One by the attorney general here in New Jersey and another by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia.

Murphy insisted it wasn’t a “political charade” and added: “I think that it’s ironic that we’re talking about these questions on the night that he opened his civility institute,” according to Politico NJ.


Christie’s assertion that Murphy that “the major things he ran on he simply hasn’t accomplished even though he has a Legislature of his own party” didn’t hit this nail totally on the head.

Yes, it’s true Murphy hasn’t been able to deliver on two major campaign promises: legalizing marijuana and instituting a millionaires tax in New Jersey.

But he’s been able to deliver on other vows. He’s signed laws fighting gender pay discrimination, tightening New Jersey’s already strict gun regulations, restoring family planning funding, raising the minimum wage, and offering community college tuition to some students for free.

Christie’s jab was at Murphy’s inability to work with his fellow Democrats who lead the state Legislature to get the other two big items he campaigned on.

Christie often cut deals with top Democratic lawmakers.

But Murphy hasn’t been able to get along with New Jersey’s most powerful state legislator, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who has been a thorn in the governor’s side.

Among the casualties of the fraught relationship has been Murphy’s inability to get his own people on the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, for example, and countless other gubernatorial nominations approved.


Murphy has long accused Christie of seriously underfunding the state’s troubled mass transit system.

In April, after the WrestleMania train debacle, Murphy repeated that Christie left NJ Transit “a mess.”

“We’re digging out of that,” he said on his radio show.

Christie’s spokeswoman said that fiasco was the result of “the abject failure” of Murphy’s “hand-picked leader of NJ Transit.”

Murphy responded: “If Chris Christie is upset with us, that tells us we’re doing good work and we’re doing the right things. He has no legs to stand on with NJ Transit.”

Murphy has whacked Christie on the subject even though the state’s funding for NJ Transit actually increased about 55 percent between fiscal years 2011 and 2017.

But while additional funding was provided, much of it wasn’t coming directly from the state budget’s general fund. It was other people’s money, such as clean energy funds, which environmentalists argued was diverted at the expense of programs that could have cleaned up air pollution.

Money that was diverted from the Turnpike Authority was originally earmarked for the ARC tunnel project that Christie canceled in October 2010.

And fares were hiked.

Christie argued at the time fares needed to go up because they hadn’t been increased since former Gov. Jim McGreevey’s term. The NJ Association of Railroad Passengers did a comparison of commuter train fares and found NJ Transit riders paid the highest fares in the nation.

Even without fare hikes, it makes it difficult for the agency to plan. One criticism in a Murphy administration audit of the agency was a lack of strategic planning at NJ Transit.

Sweeney, who often clashes with Murphy, asserted in a column that appeared on Sunday that Murphy’s initial $25 million increase for NJ Transit in his budget proposal for the current fiscal year was “too little” and that lawmakers had to beef it up. He said more needs to be done to fix NJ Transit.

“Commuters don’t want someone to blame, they want someone to fix it. They want to know that their train or bus is going to be there on time,” Sweeney wrote.


We’ve heard it a lot the last two years: Murphy accusing Christie of leaving New Jersey with a wrecked economy that he is now reviving.

This summer, Murphy announced the state’s unemployment fell to a record low 3.5 percent in June and said this was a sign of the policies his administration has put in place. The number dropped even further, to 3.2 percent, in August.

“We’re on a journey,” Murphy said in July. “We’re digging out of an economic mess. But we’re clearly putting runs on the board.”

New Jersey’s unemployment rate was at 10 percent in January 2010 when Christie took office at the height of the national Great Recession

That number dropped significantly toward the end of Christie’s tenure. It was a 4.9 percent in January 2018, when Murphy was sworn in to succeed him.

So as Democrats frequently point out about the economy Donald Trump inherited from Barack Obama, Murphy came into office with an economy that was much stronger than the one Christie had in his first days.

New Jersey did see 11 credit-rating downgrades during Christie’s eight years as governor. And a 2017 report by Politico showed the Garden State had the eighth-worst recovery of any U.S. state.

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