CAMDEN — Grab the popcorn. Or maybe take cover. New Jersey's Democrats are having a fight.

On Wednesday, Democratic leaders in Camden County continued their attacks on Gov. Phil Murphy, with unelected power broker George Norcross III calling the leader of his party an incompetent liar with no strategy.

"He thinks he’s the King of England and Mrs. thinks she’s the Queen of England, and they don’t have to answer to anybody," Norcross said in scathing interview about Murphy and first Lady Tammy Murphy.

Democratic officials in Camden County, meanwhile, issued a joint statement referring to the governor as "phony Phil," while praising his Republican predecessor.

The broadsides on Murphy come as the governor's task force continues to investigate the state’s $11 billion economic-development tax incentive programs, which have benefited companies tied to Norcross. South Jersey Democrats have characterized the task force as an "attack on Camden," a struggling city that attracted businesses with tax breaks.

But South Jersey Democrats aren't the only ones defending the program.

Former Gov. Chris Christie, whose Republican administration presided over the tax incentive program, dismissed the task force as political posturing.

“While Gov. Murphy was collecting his pay-to-play gift from President (Barack) Obama entertaining the wealthy of Germany at embassy parties, we were back here doing the hard work to rebuild Camden from the most dangerous city in America to the most hopeful city in America,” Christie said.

Former Gov. Jon Corzine, meanwhile, praised both Norcross and Christie for their roles in bringing "substantial progress" to Camden.

Former state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Democrat from Elizabeth, this week described the task force as "a campaign to malign and destroy the reputation of businesses and to settle political scores."

Lesniak said the chairman of the task force, former Rutgers University School of Law dean Ronald K. Chen, was being "irresponsible and unethical" when he announced a "criminal referral" regarding allegations of unregistered lobbying in the tax incentives programs.

"I find no difference in the circumstances involved in the lobbying on behalf of the tax incentives on behalf of Camden, the poorest big city in the country, than the lobbying on behalf of Wall Street Giant Goldman Sachs by its executive, now Gov. Phil Murphy, who lobbied aggressively to get tax incentives for a project that, according to a 2014 New York Times article, was supposed to bring 6,000 jobs to Jersey City employees but was never occupied as promised," Lesniak said in an open letter.

More pointed was this statement issued Wednesday by Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr., Camden Mayor Frank Moran, Camden Council President Curtis Jenkins, Assemblywoman Patricia Egan Jones and state Sen. Nilsa Cruz Perez.

“We read Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent statement that he will do more for Camden than any other administration. We know the Governor suffers from geographic bias but wanted to ensure he was talking about Camden, New Jersey, and not Camden, Maine. If he really means Camden, New Jersey, we respectfully suggest to the governor that he start by not trashing Camden and the businesses that have chosen to relocate or expand here.

"It takes chutzpah to say he will do more for the city of Camden than the previous governors, especially since he has been here to the city, like once, and is constantly looking to impound funds as a way to gain leverage. Governor Jon Corzine and his Attorney General, Anne Milgram put this great city on a path to stability after decades of unfulfilled promises. That is showing true commitment. Further, Gov. Chris Christie single handedly helped usher in Camden’s renaissance. He did more for this city than any other Governor in history.

"Governors of both parties, legislative leaders, business leaders and residents have collaborated for years to bring about meaningful and verifiable progress. Crime is at a 50-year low, k-12 education has vastly improved, 30 companies have either expanded or are moving to the city. This kind of progress happens by working together and not by vilifying people or institutions. Yet that is exactly what the Governor is doing; he is conducting a proxy war against Camden.

"Perhaps if he actually did what is right for Camden instead of sending his politically leaning taskforce to harass, and destabilize our business community, we would be less inclined to believe those who have called him phony Phil.”

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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