New Jersey Governor Chris Christie likes to tell audiences that one reason for his, uh, outsized personality is that he was raised in a household by parents with a particular ethnic make-up.
“I have an Irish father,” Christie once said, “and I had…a Sicilian mother. For those of you who have been exposed to the combination of Irish and Sicilian, it has made me not unfamiliar with conflict.”
These days, though, Christie’s main task seems to be figuring out what to do when his term is up next year. He was one of the first big names to come out and unequivocally support Donald Trump, now that (I can’t believe I am about to write this sentence) it’s clear that Trump, in all likelihood, is going to win the Republican nomination.
That support could go a long way should there be a (gulp) Trump administration. Expect Christie to jockey for some kind of Cabinet position. If nothing else, those Cabinet meetings will surely be entertaining.
But Christie isn’t the only one with his (half) Irish eyes on the future. Who will be among those vying to replace Christie, in what is sure to be a bruising 2017 gubernatorial race?
At least two prominent Irish Americans have emerged as top prospects to serve as New Jersey’s 56th governor.
First there is Steve Sweeney, a former ironworker who rose through the ranks of organized labor to win a seat in the Jersey State Senate and eventually become speaker of the Senate. For years now, Sweeney has been one of the most powerful elected officials in New Jersey.
According to the web site Politickernj, only Christie, and both Jersey U.S. senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, wield more authority in the Garden State.
Sweeney was born in the tough city of Camden, where he attended Pennsauken High School, though he did not graduate. (He eventually returned to school and earned an equivalency diploma.)
Sweeney is currently locked in a protracted battle over Atlantic City’s future. The famed gambling resort has been teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and Jersey leaders have to figure out what, if any, role the state will play in propping up the town’s finances.
“Senate President Stephen Sweeney is trying to save Atlantic City. Or he’s trying to destroy it. It all depends on who you ask,” The Press of Atlantic City newspaper recently noted.
Expected to butt heads with Sweeney in the Democratic gubernatorial battle is former businessman Phil Murphy.
“The youngest of four children of a middle-class Irish American family who lived just outside Boston,” a profile in the Jersey paper Two River Times noted, “Murphy grew up with a hard working dad who didn’t finish high school but was ready, willing and able to take on any job to support his family – including being a paid pall bearer and a liquor store manager – and a mother who believed that a good education was as much of a foundation for a successful and happy future as hard work.”
After graduating from Harvard and the Wharton School, Murphy became a top executive at Goldman Sachs, working out of the firm’s Frankfurt offices. He was later nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as ambassador to Germany, which he did from 2009 to 2013.
Murphy has already been holding packed town hall meetings where he has “laid out progressive proposals that could be the tenets of his 2017 campaign: the need to raise the minimum wage, improve gun control laws, hike the state gasoline tax to pay for transportation projects, set up a college tuition forgiveness program, and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit,” as NJ.com reporter Brent Johnson recently noted.
Murphy also served as 2015 grand marshal for the Rumson St. Patrick’s Day parade, and later sported what were described as shamrock-speckled pajama pants.
“I think I’ll start wearing these to bed,” Murphy told politickernj.com. “I’m a proud Irish American.”
New Jersey is a reliably Democratic state, though Irish Americans such as State Senator Michael Doherty and State Senator Thomas Kean, Jr. (son of former Governor Tom Kean) may well vie for the Republican nod.