Murphy and Ciattarelli Face Off in First New Jersey Governor’s Debate

By Sasha Budesa

Incumbent Democratic governor Phil Murphy clashed with his Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli on Tuesday night in New Jersey’s first gubernatorial debate of the election season. Televised from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, the debate became increasingly heated as the two argued over issues including the COVID-19 pandemic, taxes, law enforcement, and Hurricane Ida.

The COVID-19 pandemic was the hot topic of the night, with Murphy’s handling of it being of particular concern for Ciattarelli. Ciattarelli said that Murphy caused the deaths of over 8,000 nursing home residents due to his lax policy of allowing nursing homes to admit COVID-positive residents. Murphy defended his position and said that nursing homes were given “crystal-clear” rules on how to prevent COVID-19, saying, “Remember, these folks live in these places … so they were obviously always going to go back, but we were very, very clear, explicitly clear: If you go back, you’ve got to be separated”.

Murphy’s policy on mask and vaccine mandates also came under fire from Ciattarelli. Although Ciattarelli is vaccinated and encourages others to do so, he says that the government of New Jersey should not install vaccine mandates. He said, “Do I believe the government has a right to tell people they have to take a medicine? No, I don’t.” Murphy countered by saying that vaccines were necessary to protect public health. He said, “Saying it’s your call and the government can’t mandate vaccines or masks is akin to supporting drunk driving.”

Murphy was harshly criticized by Ciattarelli for his delayed response to Hurricane Ida, which killed 30 people in New Jersey. Ciattarelli said, “If ever we needed a ‘Get the hell off the beach moment,’ this was it.”, referring to the delay between Hurricane Ida hitting New Jersey, and the state of emergency being announced. Murphy defended his government and said that they had done their best to handle the storm.

Law enforcement was also a subject of the debate. Murphy was called out for lacking an endorsement from New Jersey’s second-largest police union; he shot back by saying, “You claim to be Mr. Law and Order. You have no endorsements from law enforcement.”

Both sides declared victory shortly after the debate ended. A Stockton University poll shortly after the debate showed the lead narrowing between the two, with 50% of voters declaring support for Murphy and 41% for Ciattarelli, an increase for Ciattarelli. When asked about the debate, Sierra Stuart, a senior, said, “[I support] Phil Murphy because Jack [Ciattarelli] keeps interrupting my YouTube videos with his … ads”.