Teaneck —It’s not every day that a former U.S. ambassador visits The Jewish Link offices. In fact, it had never happened before in the three years since our inception. But Ambassador Philip Murphy is not just a former ambassador; he is also a New Jerseyan exploring a gubernatorial run for 2017. He shared that he has visited many communities over the past few months, and was particularly interested in hearing concerns and understanding priorities from New Jersey’s many varied Jewish enclaves. Having visited the more haredi Lakewood community many times, he told us he was particularly interested in understanding Teaneck as a flagship Modern Orthodox community and visiting one of our crowning attractions, our “kosher bar,” the Teaneck Doghouse. “I’ve got to get over there,” he told us.
Murphy was the United States ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013, and he told The Jewish Link that roughly one-fifth of his time in office in Berlin was spent working on German-Jewish relations. A businessman who spent more than 20 years at Goldman Sachs, Murphy is considered a likely Democratic candidate for the 2017 governor’s nomination. In an extensive interview, Murphy shared his thoughts and general priorities for his candidacy and communicated his interest in providing progressive Democratic leadership to the state he calls home. He told The Jewish Link that he wants to be part of the team that fixes New Jersey’s budgetary and economic issues, which he feels are particularly stymieing to the middle class. Murphy was part of Goldman Sachs during its initial public offering and will have no trouble financing his own run.
The election landscape is currently filled with the “usual suspects who want to work on state issues in the usual way,” Murphy said, and stated that, in contrast, his interest is in finding collaborative solutions guided by his “adult leadership.”
“I got lucky and made a few bucks, but there is no higher calling than public service. I am not doing this for the office, for the title; I want to serve. That’s my whole life. That’s the way we were brought up,” he said.
Murphy and his wife, Tammy, have four children and live in Middletown, in Monmouth County. But they have lived all over the world as a result of Murphy’s global career, and, in particular, spent many years in Germany when he was heading up Goldman Sachs’s Frankfurt office.
Over the course of his time there, Murphy had the opportunity to become friendly with Rabbi Josh Spinner, who is currently executive vice president and CEO of the Lauder Foundation in Berlin, which is the leading provider of kiruv (Jewish outreach) in Germany. The foundation created by philanthropist Ronald Lauder also funds educational outposts and yeshiva programming throughout the former Soviet Union countries. Spinner told The Jewish Link that during Murphy’s time as U.S. ambassador in Berlin, “Phil used to say that one of the two things he thinks about every morning when he wakes up is whether Germany is doing right by the Jewish people (the other being how Germany relates to America). I initially found this astonishing, and almost hard to believe,” said Spinner.
Spinner told us he asked himself why Murphy, who is not Jewish, places such importance on this issue. “As I got to know Phil well, I realized that thinking about the moral responsibilities carried by Germany and the German people is exactly how Phil works. A relationship with the USA should not just be about common interests or policies, but about understanding the weight of history, and the importance of acting consciously, wisely and correctly. This story always reminds me of how critical Jewish life today is to contemporary Germany, but it also reminds me of Phil’s exceptional character and judgment. Phil is a straight shooter, and means exactly what he says,” added Spinner.
Rabbi Steven Burg, a Bergenfield resident and Bergen County Democratic Committee member who is now worldwide director of Aish HaTorah, told The Jewish Link that Murphy is a staunch friend of Israel whom the New Jersey Jewish community can count on. “With anti-Semitism on the rise across Europe, Ambassador Murphy was a staunch defender of the Jews in Germany. He has spoken out forcefully against those who try to boycott and demonize Israel,” Burg said.
Born in 1957 in Boston, Murphy is a Harvard graduate who was a member of the famed Hasty Pudding Theatrical Club. He also earned an M.B.A. from The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. He said he considers himself a proud product of the middle class. While his parents were reportedly political activists who volunteered for John F. Kennedy, his father worked in a sequence of odd jobs, including as a paid pallbearer and as manager of a liquor store. His mother was a secretary who ensured that all four of her children earned at least bachelor’s degrees, and three of them went on to earn advanced degrees, which served them well.
For his part, Murphy embarked on a 23-year career in finance, which was marked by the establishment of the Jersey City office of Goldman Sachs, as well as his time as president of Goldman Sachs for Asia and senior director for the firm globally. In addition, during his time as head of the Frankfurt office, he had oversight over all of Goldman Sachs’s holdings in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and also those of many of the emerging central European nations.
He plans to use his expertise in economics and finance to help New Jersey through and out of its financial challenges. “New Jersey is in a state of crisis, in particular financial crisis, felt primarily in the middle class,” said Murphy. “This is a middle class state. So goes the middle class, so goes the state,” he said.
Murphy told The Jewish Link he felt that the middle class has been left behind by the Christie administration, and that securing the future of the middle class, and ensuring jobs for those who traditionally have earned a middle income, is important for the state’s overall health. “Where is the leverage point in getting the state back on its feet? The economy and jobs for the middle class,” he said.
To that end, one of the first things he would do as governor, Murphy said, would be to leverage his business contacts and bring over heads of German and other European companies and convince them to move their company headquarters to New Jersey. “What are our assets as a state and how do we strengthen them? The location, the connectivity, the [proximity and ease of travel to] adjacent states, the ports, bridges, tunnels, railroad.” New Jersey is ideal and has everything a global business requires to be successful, he said. Bringing in international commerce will “grow the economy and put the state back on its feet,” he said.
A second way to grow the economy, Murphy said, is to leverage our population density and strengthen our schools, our infrastructure, our educated workforce and our universities. “If you strengthen these things, you grow the economy,” he said.
Murphy said he is an expert in understanding “how jobs are created and how business develops,” and that this expertise, combined with being a tireless optimist, are assets that will serve New Jersey well.
Murphy sees himself as a strong voice for reforming public policy in New Jersey and beyond. In 2005, he chaired the New Jersey Benefits Task Force. He also co-chaired (with former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano) Renewing our Schools, Securing our Future: A Task Force on Public Education for the 21st Century. Murphy said he is looking for bold and scalable solutions to New Jersey’s public education challenges.
When faced with the question of whether he supports tax breaks or school vouchers for private education and for families with special needs, Murphy said he was both “deeply sympathetic but also deeply conflicted” as he feels education dollars for public education are already stretched too thin.
Murphy was the National Finance Chair for the Democratic National Committee in 2006, raising money for races including the capture of the House majority for Democrats in 2006 and the election in 2008 of President Barack Obama. During his tenure as Finance Chair, the DNC raised nearly $300 million.
Murphy, with his wife, established New Start New Jersey in 2014, a “think and do” organization aimed at creating a vibrant, secure and growing middle class in New Jersey. More recently, they also formed New Way for New Jersey, a political organization established to promote a progressive middle-class agenda among Democratic voters in New Jersey. He also serves as a member of the advisory board of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. He was honored by the American Jewish Committee in 2014.
By Elizabeth Kratz