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For the second night of our Women’s Empowerment Series, we tried a new format – hosting a one-on-one interview between SJ Magazine’s Marianne Aleardi and New Jersey’s First Lady Tammy Murphy. The conversation steered away from politics and instead focused on Murphy’s personal experiences and insights. It was a night of women’s empowerment with one of the most empowered women in our state. 

On balancing work and family… 

You have to make a decision every day to prioritize how you’re going to manage everything. All four of our children play soccer, so fall is always complicated for us. What we do is we get all their soccer schedules – we’ve done this for years – and we say, “Ok if we go to five of Charlie’s games, we have to go to five of Sam’s games and five of Josh’s games and five  

of Evan’s games, so how do we figure that out?” We plot and scheme – and we get really messed up when there’s a rain day. 

On the decision to run for governor… 

When we came to the decision that Phil should do this, we agreed we wouldn’t tell anybody else until we talked to the kids. We had a family dinner, and I will never forget, Phil and I said, “We were thinking that maybe dad might do this.” And our eldest jumped up from the table, in the middle of the restaurant, and he put his arms around us and he said, “We’ve been waiting. We’re in. We’re all in. You’ve got to do this, the state needs you, and we’re in.’”  

On even considering to run for governor in the first place… 

Phil worked on a pension fund task force under Governor Cody back in 2005. It was really hard. It was a blue ribbon panel of people who obviously didn’t start from the same vantage point, but Phil is really good at bringing people together. In the end, he came up with this book of recommendations – it became known as the Murphy plan – but then that book was put on a shelf and never touched. So a lot of issues we have in the state now could have been a lot better if we had gone into some of his recommendations. Because of that experience, because he put in so much blood, sweat and tears to try and help the state move forward, we both said, “Well, if we aren’t doing it ourselves, it’s not going to happen.”  

On infant and maternal mortality… 

This is a horrible situation. Out of every 100,000 births in the U.S., 20 women die in the first year of their infant’s life. In New Jersey, it’s 37 out of that 100,000.  

That sounds bad enough, but then, when you drill down you realize it’s basically racially segmented. If you are a black child and you’re born in the state of New Jersey, your chances of dying in the first year of life are three times greater than that of a white child. If you are a black mother and you give birth in the state of New Jersey, your chances of dying in that child’s first year of life are five times greater than a white woman’s.  

New Jersey is ranked 45th out of 50th for infant mortality.  

On her first steps to address the issue… 

There are a lot of really good people who are working on this throughout the state, but most people are working in silence. If you’re a doula and you’re living in an area, then you’re only talking to people in your area. If you come up with a best practice, you’re not necessarily sharing it.  

So last week we invited different stakeholders to Drumthwacket [the Governor’s residency in Princeton]. We set up 12 tables and instead of having all the doulas at one table and all the insurance people at another table, I put one person from each group at every table. I gave them topics to discuss. You could just see the wheels turning. At the end of the summit, each table gave us their suggestions of things we could do as a state. I’m looking forward to seeing how we can take all those suggestions and come up with some really concrete steps.  

On climate change… 

Phil has said he wants to make New Jersey 50 percent renewables by 2030, and 100 percent by the year 2050, which is music to my ears. I’m a founding member of Al Gore’s Environmental Board, so it’s a topic that’s very important to me.  

New Jersey already has about 43,000 people working in the energy sector. About 25 percent of those people are working in solar, and we produce 2,500 megawatts of energy from 90,000 solar panels all around New Jersey. We want to not only increase the output from solar, and obviously increase the number of jobs, but also, we are putting a lot of attention on off-shore wind and energy. Because New Jersey is well-situated on the coast, we can really do a lot here. Phil is trying to set us up to be a leader, and I think we’ll be a leader, not just nationally, but around the world. A lot of people talk about clean energy and the economy and say, “You’re going to lose jobs, it’s going to be expensive.” None of that is true, and we’re going to prove it.  

On getting engaged to the governor… 

I first met Phil in 1987, but we didn’t go out on our first date until January of 1994. Then we got engaged 18 days later. It’s pretty crazy, and we keep telling our kids, “Do not do that.”  

It’s hard for me to go back in time and explain how I went from day one to day 18 and said, “Ok, sure, let’s go for this.” We are very similar people, and yet we’re very different. He’s kind of larger-than-life. When he comes into the room he owns the whole space and every person who’s in that room. I kind of like to come in and sit in the corner and work my way into conversations. We’re very complimentary.  

On what we should like about the governor… 

At home, he is exactly what you see out in public. He is a very honest person, and he is genuine. He really has conviction that he can make change for the better. He has the ability to see things in a way that I’m very envious of. He’s able to look at the big picture all the time and say, ‘Ok, wait, that doesn’t make sense,’ or ‘That’s a great idea.’ He’s a very good team leader. He doesn’t like to take credit for things. If you showed up and you did your work, he’d be the first to say, “You present this, because you’re the one who knows more about it.” He’s not perfect, none of us are perfect, but he’s perfect for me.  

On their partnership/marriage… 

He’s always encouraged me to do what I want to do and be all that I can be. When he’s feeling tired, then I’m usually the one saying, “Come on, let’s go!” Or, if I’m the one saying, “I can’t do this today,” he’s the one saying, “Listen, you can.” We are kind of always there pushing the other one along.  

On how often they communicate (and what they talk about)… 

I talk to Phil probably 20 times a day, at least – text, phone, in person. 

We talk about the kids all the time. He’ll say, “Oh I just heard from one of the kids, did you hear this?” and I’ll be like, “Yes, I heard that,” or “No, I didn’t.” So there are a lot of quick interactions like that. We’re getting ready to go overseas Monday, so we’re talking about a lot of logistics for that. We find ourselves meeting at dinner. I’ll get home later tonight, and I’m sure Phil will sit with me while I have dinner.

On succeeding in a male-dominated industry… 

Years ago, I was the only female professional in the group where I worked. I learned on the job that if you know your subject matter, you’re fine. I used to tell myself, “Just stay on topic. Put your head down and work.” There were things I experienced at the time that, should they happen today, those who I was working with would find themselves in legal or financial problems. But I just kept my head down and kept plowing ahead. 

On why we should care about Drumthwacket… 

Drumthwacket is an unrefined gem. The house itself was built in 1835. It was owned by William Penn. There have been 2,000 patents invented inside that house. So just from a historical standpoint, it’s significant.  

It’s the people’s house; we all pay taxes to support this place, and it’s not where it needs to be. I’m going to change that and in the interim, we are opening it up. I’m literally on a hunt to try and bring every corner of New Jersey to see that house. I want people to want to be there. And I don’t want them to come once and see an art exhibit and think, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and then go away. I want them to come back and say, ‘When’s the next one?”  

On advice for young people… 

I don’t think anyone learns in this world without making a mistake, so if you go from one success to the next in life, you’ll find you are not improving yourself and you probably are living in some artificial universe. When you make mistakes and fall down, if you’re able to say, “Ok, what did I learn from that,” it makes you a better person.  


Quick Questions with the First Lady

What time do you go to sleep?  

I’m well-known for falling asleep on the sofa around 11:30, 12 o’clock.  

You actually go on your sofa?  

Tonight, I’ll get home around 9:30. I’ll immediately throw on some sweatpants and pull my hair back in a ponytail, run downstairs and have some dinner. I’ll get on the sofa, and I’ll probably watch a baseball game or the news.  

So you watch TV?  

I watch sports and the news.   

How do you find out the day’s schedule?  

I know what my whole day is at least the day before. 

Sometimes you spend the day traveling across the state. How do you eat?  

Breakfast at home, almost always. I must have frequent flyer points at Starbucks. Anybody who’s with me always knows, they always say, ‘Do you want to go to Starbucks?’ So if I’m on the run, that’s what I’ll do. Then I have certain places around the state that I like to go to. I also like diners.  

Do you always – or ever – have your phone in your hand? 

I always do. You have to when you have four kids, and you have Phil.  

Do you check your own email? 

I do.  

Do you have certain periods of time when you answer emails? 

No, I just do it as, and when, I can.  

Organization is really key for you.  

It always has been. And scheduling. Phil and I are very scheduled.   

Do you have close friends, and do you get to see them?  

Yes, we do. We don’t see them as often as we’d like, but most of our friends understand what we’re doing. They’re pretty patient with us. I’m not sure if this went on forever if they would remain our friends, but they’re good.

November 2018
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