Once prosecuted by Christie, Passaic GOP power broker poised for comeback

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

Former Passaic GOP chairman Peter Murphy of Totowa ultimately plead guilty to mail fraud back in 2003 after a lengthy prosecution and conviction (the original result of which the 3rd Circuit set aside and remanded for a new trial), Save Jerseyans, but if the Passaic County Regular Republican Organization’s executive board moves forward with a working resolution on July 22nd, he may very soon be back at helm of that organization. Or running for elected office?

Here’s the bylaws article that they might repeal:

No person shall be qualified to serve as Municipal Leader or member of the Executive Board who is otherwise unqualified to hold elective office or has been convicted of a crime of the third degree or higher, involving dishonesty or moral turpitude or which constitutes a felony in either the State of New Jersey, Federal jurisdiction or equivalent of same in another jurisdiction. All Municipal Leaders or members of the Executive Board shall execute a certified statement that the individual has not been convicted of a crime of the third degree or higher, involving dishonesty or moral turpitude or which constitutes a felony in either the State of New Jersey, Federal Jurisdiction or equivalent of same in another jurisdiction.”

The ultimate result here, as ever, only almost as interesting as HOW we got here in the first place.

The man who derailed power broker?

“We are pleased with the end result here – that Mr. Murphy served a considerable amount of time in prison for crimes which he has finally acknowledged committing as Republican party chairman in Passaic County,” then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie crowed in a November 7, 2003 statement released by his office. “For those crimes, Mr. Murphy has lost his prestige and power, nearly a year of freedom and now is a convicted felon.”

Chris Christie as U.S. Attorney at a press availability.
Chris Christie as U.S. Attorney at a press availability.

But power is more enduring than all that in New Jersey politics, of course. After time served, Murphy was back on the scene in Passaic by the time Christie ran for governor back in 2009; what followed was a seemingly never-ending turf war between Murphy and the Asm. Scott Rumana-era Passaic County GOP, one which most recently turned into a courthouse proxy battle.

Patience is one of the ex-chairman’s virtues. Though Rumana’s endorsed successor John Traier was recently elected to a three-year term, Murphy took advantage of 2015’s low primary turnout to strike out from his Totowa base and capture a majority of county committee seats in Little Falls, Passaic, Paterson, West Milford and Woodland Park.

As a candidate, Christie avoided a Passaic GOP event hosted by Murphy back in ’09. Today, as he campaigns for president largely on his record in New Jersey, the man he once dethroned in Passaic is now effectively back in charge of the Governor’s party’s cadet branch in that populous battleground county.

Is Murphy deserving of a second chance after having gone through the ringer and worked his way back up? Or is this just the latest tangible sign of an NJ GOP (and state political culture generally) that’s reverting back to its pre-Christie condition as the former star federal prosecutor mentally checks out? Something else altogether?

There’s more to discuss. Stay tuned for the outcome of next Wednesday’s meeting…
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