Jim Johnson Statement to PCDO members
VIDEO: Jim's Challenge to the Insiders
JIM JOHNSON Biography:
Jim’s family has called New Jersey home for four generations and began serving the state as soon as they arrived.
Jim grew up in Montclair, the second of three children. His father was a Marine veteran and a small businessman. His mother worked as a legal secretary, church organist, and music teacher. While Jim was in high school, she earned her college degree and eventually earned advanced degrees which enabled her to teach, at the college level, later in life, something she continues to do today.
His parents worked hard, every day – and put education first, despite financial hardships. With family support, student loans and part-time jobs, Jim earned his undergraduate and law degrees, with honors, from Harvard.
Over three decades of service to the public and in business, Jimhas been tested and is ready to lead New Jersey, clean up Trenton, and open the door to economic opportunity for those who have been shut out and let down for too long.
After law school, Jim served as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, successfully prosecuting violent drug dealers, white-collar tax evasion, and organized crime – including members of the Genovese crime family and drug dealers who tried to assassinate an undercover detective.
During the Clinton Administration, Jim served in several senior positions within the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He started as an Assistant Secretary and President Clinton asked him to co-chair the National Church Arson Task Force. Later, he served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement, overseeing the operations of one third of federal law enforcement, including the United States Secret Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the United States Customs Service. In the wake of the mass shooting at Columbine, Jim saw first hand the deadly results when guns are in the wrong hands and fought to close the gun-show loophole that contributed to the massacre.
At the end of the Clinton years, Jim returned to private practice, where clients brought him in to handle their toughest challenges. He routinely advised companies who wanted independent reviews of their actions that met tough Department Of Justice standards for independence and thoroughness. As a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, Jim was known for his calm demeanor, high ethical standards and insistence on getting the facts right.
In 2009, Jim was selected by a federal judge to oversee the settlement of an affordable housing conflict between the Department of U.S. Housing and Urban Development in Westchester County, NY. His task was to hold officials accountable for fulfilling the terms of the consent decree. He also developed new, collaborative ways for communities to understand and solve the problems of developing and marketing affordable housing.
For seven years, Jim led the Brennan Center for Justice as chair and, at times, co-counsel, working to protect the right to vote, to reduce both crime and incarceration and to advocate for fairness for families facing foreclosure. For two years, Jim led the State of New Jersey’s Advisory Committee on Police Standards, formed to develop a set of proposals to ensure that the State Trooper’s progress in eliminating racial profiling became permanent. His work led to a change in the law that has transformed the relationship between State Troopers and civilian leadership and has withstood the test of time. In the last two years, Jim brought together members of the civil rights and law enforcement communities in a collaboration known as New Jersey Communities Forward – a project within the NJ Institute for Social Justice. Adopting a new approach, NJCF contributed heavily to the new policies on police worn body cameras, independent shooting reviews and implicit bias training.
New Jersey needs a new way of doing business – one that brings the wisdom of its people into the process and is forward-looking rather than crisis-driven. Jim is running for Governor to ensure that all of our voices are heard as we work to improve our public schools, increase wages and benefits for working families, and invest in repairing our roads, bridges, water system, and mass transit.
Jim is married to Nancy Northup, an attorney who heads the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global human rights organization. They have four children. Jim’s eldest daughter, Abigail, teaches in the New York City public schools, as does his step-son Miles. His daughter Amalya is a college freshman and his stepdaughter Natalie is in graduate school for rabbinical studies.
Jim’s mission has always been clear: siding with people against the powerful, to change the way New Jersey works for this generation and the next.
January 10, 2017
Man Versus Money and Machine
Democratic party leaders want to anoint a wealthy ambassador as the next governor of New Jersey, but they’re overlooking one of the more compelling candidates of 2017.
One of the Democrats running to become the next governor of New Jersey is a former federal prosecutor who went after organized crime rings, an undersecretary of the Treasury in the Clinton administration who scrutinized the finances of international drug cartels, and a reformer who has led efforts to improve community relations with police in his post-governmental career. He boasts a rags-to-riches story as the first member of his family to graduate from college. Borrowing from President Obama’s campaign playbook, he is casting himself as an African-American who can heal the divisions in a politically-polarized state.
No one is giving Jim Johnson, 55, much of a chance against front-running Phil Murphy, 59, the wealthy Goldman Sachs executive who later became Ambassador to Germany. It’s hard to even find much coverage of Johnson’s candidacy in the New Jersey press. But anyone who understands the importance of a compelling narrative in politics should be paying close attention to his campaign.
The New Jersey governor race—or, at least the Democratic primary—is shaping up as an early test of the influence of money and party bosses. New Jersey is one of the few remaining states where under-the-radar insiders wield tremendous influence. Party leaders can funnel money to their preferred candidates, dissuade interest groups from defying the party line, and even denote the official party preference on ballots. In the governor race, that means New Jersey Democrats could see Murphy’s name in huge typeface on the ballot as the party-backed candidate, with Johnson (and other primary candidates) demoted to fine print.
At a time when the energy in the Democratic Party is against Wall Street billionaires, it’s a bit counterintuitive that a candidate in 2017 is favored mainly because of his eye-popping wealth. But with television ads costing a fortune to air across the state, self-funded candidates have an automatic leg up over the competition. Former Gov. Jon Corzine, another Goldman Sachs alum, pumped over $28 million of his own money into a losing reelection campaign in 2009. Murphy brought in $7.3 million of income last year alone, according to financial disclosures, and loaned his campaign $10 million in startup money. Johnson is starting his fundraising from scratch.
But if there was one lesson of the 2016 presidential campaign, it was that money is only as effective as the candidate’s message. Clinton outspent Trump significantly in the battleground states to no avail. Insurgent candidates now have effective tools to overcome a financial deficit, including digital advertising that generates viral buzz and organic excitement from online social networks.
“In the last year, if you haven’t been surprised with what’s happened with politics, you haven’t been paying attention,” Johnson told National Journal. “I believe in the politics of conviction, not calculation. I have lived my life building unlikely coalitions. I believe not only is bridge-building possible but it’s all about who I am. The message of change that I bring, and track record of change that I have will resonate across the campaign.”
Johnson’s campaign team is familiar with using an untraditional playbook to propel underdog candidates. His media strategist John Del Cecato brainstormed the memorable ad for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—featuring his Afro-wearing son, Dante—that fueled his candidacy. Del Cecato told National Journal to expect a similar type of unconventional ad campaign to introduce Johnson to voters. Another campaign adviser, Doug Rubin, helped elect Deval Patrick as the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. Like Johnson, Patrick was a Harvard Law School graduate with no political experience prior to running — and was initially viewed as a long-shot. He ended up winning his primary in a landslide against the state’s attorney general and a free-spending venture capitalist.
Johnson will be using a strategy that has been a time-tested formula for Democratic underdogs: Win over the substantial African-American vote in a diverse state, while exciting white progressives with a story that inspires enthusiasm. His campaign is also betting on the theory (championed by David Axelrod) that voters are looking for a remedy, not a replica from the past. Johnson’s wonky nature, soft-spoken demeanor, and desire for consensus couldn’t be more of a contrast from outgoing Gov. Chris Christie.
Out of office, President Obama has pledged his focus will be on rebuilding the Democratic party, helping to build a bench of talented officeholders. He’s got an opportunity to weigh in right away in a race pitting one of his top donors against someone whose rhetoric is reminiscent of his own idealistic vision of the past. If the New Jersey governor race was decided by résumés, Johnson would be considered a top contender. But the Democratic establishment’s rallying behind Murphy is proof positive that money, not message, often makes the party go round.