Remembering Jamie Fox, Respected By All In NJ Politics


Let me start by confessing that I am hopelessly biased on this one. But I am not the only one, not by a long shot.

Jamie Fox just died. He was 62. He was a friend of mine, and throw-back of the sort that seems to be passing from this earth, marching to extinction in the path of the dinosaurs.

After a lifetime in politics, fighting one tough campaign after another, serving in the cabinet of two governors, he somehow won the unreserved affection and respect of people on both sides of the aisle.

He was a Democrat, and not a gentle one. But when the bell rang, he put his weapons down and looked for the human beings behind the opponent's armor.

Put it this way: He was friendly with Gov. Chris Christie, who appointed Fox to his cabinet. And yet, one of his closest friends was Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), the governor's arch-enemy.

"I guess that sums it up," Weinberg says. "Everybody liked Jamie, and it stretched to both extremes in New Jersey politics."

You can't get to that spot without being a person who keeps his word. And Fox did that. If he made a deal, he kept it.

But it was more than that. Fox was smart, and funny, and quick to poke fun at himself, as much as he delighted in piercing the vanities of the other players.

Having dinner with Jamie, along with lifetime friend, Eric Shuffler, was always a highlight of my calendar. It started and ended with fine red wine, and often had neighboring tables staring at us when Jamie unleashed his unreserved laughs.

He always wanted to know what I was thinking, even though he knew 10 times as much. And that goes for politics. And history. And art. When he was chief of staff to Gov. James McGreevey, he replaced the dated and dull paintings in the governor's outer office with fresh modern stuff.

Jamie had tales to tell. He was most proud, perhaps, of his role in President Obama's campaign in Florida, where he answered an emergency call from his friend David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, and spent the campaign's final two months steering the Florida effort to a win. 

He was twice transportation secretary, once under Gov. James McGreevey, when he fixed a notoriously dysfunctional Department of Motor Vehicles, and rescued the new E-ZPass system from bankruptcy and death by 1,000 glitches. (He replaced the art in that office, too.)

He was called back to that job by Christie to untie the political knot around the gas tax, at a time when the bridges and roads were falling apart, but both parties were trying to force the other to propose the needed hike. He left that job after a year, jaded that Christie had left him without political cover as he maneuvered to join the presidential campaign.

The most bitter moment, though, came when federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against him last year in connection with the infamous "chairman's flight" that United Airlines arranged for David Samson, then chairman at the Port Authority. Jamie was a lobbyist for United when the airline set up a special flight to South Carolina, just for Samson, and he was at the dinner when it was allegedly arranged.

I talked to Jamie about that near the end, over breakfast near his Manhattan apartment. He was on kidney dialysis by then, moving slowly, and looking like he had aged a decade in a year. He was determined to fight that charge, and while I can't pass judgment, it is grating to have sat through the Bridgegate trial and seen far more malevolent characters walk free.

It was an ugly end, but it came after a remarkable life. Jamie was gay, and never found his soul mate.

But he had a truckload of friends, and I will always count myself lucky to have been among them.

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