By Joe Murray

James F. Murray, Jr. (1919 – 1965) was Democratic New Jersey State Senator for Hudson County from 1954 -1958. He also served as a leading member of Jersey City’s municipal government, first as President of the City’s Board of Tax Commissioners and later as City Commissioner and Director of Revenue & Finance. Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, he was the only son of James F. Murray, Sr., a long-time political opponent of New Jersey political Boss, Mayor Frank Hague.

A Political Family

Three generations of the Murray family had been active in Jersey City politics. Murray’s grandfather was Tax Assessment Commission under Republican Mayor Mark Fagan; whereas his granduncle, George J. Murray, close friend and early supporter of Mayor Frank Hague, was City Poormaster for twelve years.

Murray Jr. learned his political craft from his father, James F. Murray, Sr., an attorney and prominent local businessman. Murray Sr. spent over twenty years trying to unseat Frank Hague, and nearly succeeded in the 1929 municipal election. Murray headed the famous Fusion Ticket, which stands as the most serious electoral threat Hague had ever faced. [1]
[1]J. Owen Grundy, History of Jersey City (Jersey City, N.J., 1976).

The 1949 Freedom Ticket

Finally, in 1949 Murray, Sr. joined forces with defecting Hague lieutenant and downtown ward leader, John V. Kenny. Together they challenged Hague’s machine by forming the Freedom Ticket. The Freedom Ticket defeated Hague’s slate of candidates in a tumultuous municipal election, thus ending Hague’s 37 year reign over Jersey City. Kenny became Mayor. Murray, Sr., who won with Kenny, became one of the newly elected City Commissioners. But the Murray pact with Kenny was short-lived. In 1950 Commissioner Murray defied the new boss by running his son (James F. Murray, Jr.), an attorney and decorated World War II veteran, for Congress. Commissioner Murray was soon punished for his independence. Kenny illegally stripped him of his official powers, alienated him in City Hall and sought to humiliate him in the eyes of the public.

But Kenny’s power play backfired. The Murray-Kenny feud lasted for two years, costing Kenny dearly in public opinion. Wanting to end his prolonged public battle with Murray before the 1952 municipal election, Kenny negotiated a truce. Murray would be nominated to become Hudson County register, while his son was offered a run for the state senate. But before the deal could be consummated, Murray Sr. died in 1952. His sudden death while still in office aroused massive public sympathy. In a shrewd manoeuvre, Kenny made a public act of contrition by deciding the city’s newest public school would be named in honor of his political nemesis, James F. Murray, Sr. He also embraced Murray Jr., who then became his father’s standard-bearer. The young Murray ran for the senate seat in 1953 and won impressively.

State Senate candidate James F. Murray, Jr. speaking at corner stone laying ceremony for James F. Murray School (PS 38) in 1953.

State Senate candidate James F. Murray, Jr. speaking at corner stone laying ceremony for James F. Murray School (PS 38) in 1953.

But it was not long before Murray Jr. turned on Kenny. He used his position as senator to antagonize the Boss, challenging him openly and thwarting his patronage from Democratic Governor Robert B. Meyner. Following a distinguished but short tenure as state Senator, James F. Murray, Jr. became the leading figure in City Hall during the term of what would be the city’s last commission government.

Victory Ticket at City Hall on election night, May 14, 1957. Left to right: Charles S. Witkowski, Thomas Gangemi,  State Senator James F. Murray, Jr., William V. Mc McLaughlin, and August W. Heckman.

Victory Ticket at City Hall on election night, May 14, 1957. Left to right: Charles S. Witkowski, Thomas Gangemi, State Senator James F. Murray, Jr., William V. Mc McLaughlin, and August W. Heckman.

1957 Victory Movement

In 1957, Senator Murray led the “Victory” reform movement which produced a major upset in the Jersey City municipal election. This Victory Ticket win broke the 8-year hold over City Hall by Hudson County Boss, John V. Kenny. In addition to Murray, the 5-man ticket comprised Thomas Gangemi, William McLaughlin, Charles S. Witkowski and August W. Heckman. Four Victory candidates were elected to the City Commission, sweeping aside all but one of Kenny’s City Hall incumbents. Ironically, Thomas Gangemi, who originally organized and funded the opposition slate, failed to win. By polling 63,449 votes, Murray, ran first in a field of ten candidates. Widely expected to become mayor, Murray, having captured the most votes, assumed the office was his. But Thomas Gangemi, deeply humiliated by his defeat, used his influence over the other Victory Commissioners to ensure that Charles Witkowski was chosen as mayor instead.[2]

[2] “Bosses & Reformers: Jersey City Victory Movement of 1957” published in New Jersey History, Volume 103, Numbers 3-4 (Fall/Winter 1985).

JFM Jr. @ City Hall Crop

Jersey City Commissioner

From 1957-1961 Murray was mayor of Jersey City in all but name. As Director of Revenue & Finance, he energetically pursued an array of visionary programs, promoting urban renewal and economic redevelopment.

He launched the first municipal Bureau of Economic Development in the state to exploit the city’s land assets and attract new industries to the city. Three industrial parks were created, including Liberty Industrial Park. During his time as Commissioner, the city’s Chamber of Commerce added more than 300 new companies to its roster. Under Murray’s direction new life was breathed into residential housing. Construction began on the St. John’s and Gregory Gardens middle-class housing developments. Murray also launched Country Village, a showcase scheme to bring suburbia to the city. Plans were conceived for a Fine Arts Center near the St John’s site, which resulted in the Five Corners library, the city’s first new library in 32 years. He was also the force behind approving the building of a new Ferris High School. [3]

[3] “Bosses & Reformers: Jersey City Victory Movement of 1957” published in New Jersey History, Volume 103, Numbers 3-4 (Fall/Winter 1985).

JFM Political Pin

In 1960 Murray championed reform of the city’s system of government. Along with fellow commissioner Bernard J. Berry, whom he backed for mayor in 1961, Murray spearheaded the Charter reform movement to scrap the commission form of government in favor of a mayor and city council. The Charter referendum passed, but Berry lost the 1961 mayoral election to Thomas Gangemi, who after losing in 1957 had attached himself to Hudson County Boss John V. Kenny.

Unable to sustain the Victory movement as a viable alternative to the Kenny machine, Murray left active politics at the end of his term of office. His final years were spent with the law firm of Murray, Nobeletti & Kenny in New York City. He died in early 1965 at the age of 45.


Lieutenant Commander James F. Murray Jr

World War II Military Career

Murray had a distinguished military career during World War II. He served 53 months of active duty with the US Navy in the Atlantic and Mediterranean theatre, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He participated in the invasion campaigns of Africa and Sicily. At Selaro and Anzio he was trapped behind enemy lines several times with naval intelligence teams and spotters. He earned four campaign stars and was awarded the Legion of Merit for “extreme bravery” while on “hazardous intelligence missions in Italy.” In addition he received four other naval citations, one British naval citation as well as the Italian Republic’s Bronze Medal of Valor for his activities with the partisans prior to the fall of Rome. He was also awarded the Lateran Cross by the Vatican. [4]

[4] The Jersey Journal, March 16, 1965

In early 1948, Murray served as advisor to Under Secretary of State James Dunn in the London conference convened to draft peace treaties for Italy, Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria. Later that year he was appointed assistant naval advisor to then Secretary of State James F. Byrnes at the Paris Peace Conference. Murray was also an offical observer at the Nuremberg Trials. [5]

[5] Hudson Dispatch March 13, 1965

Jesuit Educated

Like his father, Murray Jr. was the product of a Catholic Jesuit education. After graduating from St Peter’s College in Jersey City, he attended Fordham Law School in New York receiving his law degree in 1942. In 1952 he earned an MA in European History from Fordham University. He practiced law as a member of the New York Bar specializing in international law.

Career in Media and Journalism

In addition to politics, Murray was active in journalism and broadcast media as commentator and presenter. He moderated the ABC Radio Series “America’s Town Meeting of the Air” from 1953 to 1955 and frequently hosted other radio and TV programs, such as “Author Meets The Critics” and “People’s Platform”. Known for his oratorical skills, Murray was a sought-after speaker in various public affairs forums. He was also an accomplished journalist and writer, whose published works include Eugenio Pacelli: Pope Of Peace co-authored with Oscar Halecki and “An Interview with Franco”.
Academic References

The Murray Collection

There is a large archive of Murray Family historical material housed at the New Jersey Historical Society under the “Murray Collection.” In addition, an extensive collection of photographs are in family’s possession. Included are original press photographs, many of the 1949 Freedom Ticket and 1957 Victory Ticket campaigns. Some such photographs were used in the article by Joseph M. Murray entitled “Bosses & Reformers: Jersey City Victory Movement of 1957” published in New Jersey History, Volume 103, Numbers 3-4 (Fall/Winter 1985).
Time Magazine New Jersey: New Boss in Town? (May 27, 1957)

Read more:
Time Magazine The Press: Journal Invictus (Jan. 06, 1958)
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,868124,00.html#ixzz1VNOxT2o1
Time Magazine The Press: The Silent Treatment (June 03, 1957)
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,824956,00.html#ixzz1VNPBDSkE

Leading the protest over Freedom Ticket ballot placement

Leading the protest over Freedom Ticket ballot placement

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6 Responses to JAMES F. MURRAY, JR.

  1. Cheryl Hickey says:

    I am trying to reach Joseph Murray whom wrote this article about James F Murray
    can you have him or the publisher reach out to me please, this article was written in 2015

  2. Donna Weatherford says:

    I am trying to find information about my inspiration to become a teacher Karen Boffa.
    She was a second grade teacher at James F. Murray School.

  3. Janet Dwyer says:

    Donna- I had Mrs Boffa too! What year were you in her class?

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