Pastor and home-builder finds his next project: Being NJ governor
TRENTON – A homebuilder and church-builder is now looking to build a public-service career at the pinnacle of New Jersey politics, beginning with the Republican nomination for governor.
Philip Rizzo, 44, of Harding is one of four Republicans on the June 8 gubernatorial ballot. He’s a third-generation real estate developer with a small construction company that builds new and renovated homes in North and Central Jersey and has also founded two Baptist churches in Hudson County, in Hoboken and North Bergen.
“We are an interesting campaign because I am running with a business mind but a pastor’s heart to bring New Jersey back to prosperity,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo and his wife, Jennifer, have four teenage children – three sons and a daughter. His life story includes losing his right arm in an accident at home at age 4 when a basement column collapsed but nevertheless going on to play varsity baseball and football in high school.
Rizzo has never before run for political office.
“I am a true political outsider,” Rizzo said. “My heartbeat for the people of New Jersey is to help them get their lives back together. My idea of sending a politician to Trenton to fix the problem is the exact definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.”
New Jersey 101.5 is hosting the first gubernatorial primary debate between the Republican candidates. The program will air live on 101.5 and at Facebook.com/nj1015 starting at 7 p.m. on May 25. This week, New Jersey 101.5 is profiling all four candidates seeking the Republican nomination next month.
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Despite having no background in state government, Rizzo said his experience running his own home-building business, helping found a Christian school and starting two churches show he has the needed leadership skills. He said he will surround himself with people who have government experience.
“I already have a broad range of administration skills and understanding,” Rizzo said. “Yes, it’s government, but it is business. It’s state business.”
Rizzo said the big issues facing the state include immigration – “Sanctuary state policy is killing our state financially. It is hurting morale of the citizens of New Jersey,” he said – as well as Gov. Phil Murphy’s handling of coronavirus and election integrity.
He said “it blows my mind that nobody has tackled” the technological shortfalls that prevent faster, accurate updating of voter rolls when people get a new driver’s license in another state, a person dies or someone gets married and changes their last name.
“The political class gets to operate in the murky waters of bad voter rolls,” Rizzo said. “No politician is going to clean that up. I’m not a politician. I fix that in the first hundred days.”
Rizzo said he believes that as the Republican nominee he can attract bipartisan support from Democrats, pointing to his 10 years as a pastor in Hudson County, and defeat Murphy.
“I’m the populist. I’m the one who’s running for Democrats and Republicans,” Rizzo said. “But the interesting thing about me is I’m not doing it as a moderate. I’m doing it from the right-hand lane.
“As a former pastor, I am unapologetically conservative,” he said. “I am pro-life. I am pro-gun. I’m pro-Trump. I’m pro-police. I’m pro-military. I’m for lower taxes. However long that list is, I check every box of what a conservative Republican looks like.
“But my last decade of ministry has all been in deep blue Hudson County. I love Democrats. And I want to minister to them. And I want serve them,” Rizzo said. “I have no intentions of being the pastor of New Jersey, but I have served both sides of the aisle for the last 10 years through the ministry.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.