MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Governor Phil Murphy paid a visit to Maplewood on Jan. 29, for a Town Hall focused on “building a stronger and fairer New Jersey together,” as the promotional materials said.

The event at The Woodland was filled to capacity, with people standing along the walls for lack of seats. The atmosphere was festive, and many times Murphy’s speech was punctuated with loud cheers and applause from the crowd.

Mayor Frank McGehee spoke as well, saying that “Maplewood is committed to being a forward thinking and progressive town.” He thanked the governor for legislation enabling undocumented immigrants to be able to obtain drivers licenses, among other initiatives.

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Murphy said there has been progress in the state during his first term in office, although “I don’t spike any footballs. We inherited a big mess. We’re digging out of that mess.” He said, “We said we would stand for a stronger and fairer New Jersey that works not just for some but for every New Jerseyan and I’m proud to say that’s who we are… We said that we don’t believe you make economic progress without social progress…those aren’t just words, we mean it.”

He said when tagged as “pro-growth progressives, we’ll take that. That’s who we are.”

He cited the highlights of his term so far: “We are on the path to $15 an hour” minimum wage, he said to great applause. His statement that “We funded Planned Parenthood” and that NJ has some of the strongest gun laws in America also drew cheers.

He also stated what he thinks makes New Jersey great. “On our best days, we have it both ways: We’re all one family, yet we’re proud of our own individual identities [and] communities.” Yet, he said, families shouldn’t pay too much to enjoy living here. “We’re not happy with the state of the property tax reality we inherited, and we will not stop until it’s fixed.”

He said his goal is to be “nothing less than…number one on the following: women’s health care and women’s agenda, period. The friendliest LGBTQ state in America. The strongest gun safety state in America. The strongest state as it relates to sensible, smart public safety heavy immigration and immigrant reform.

“Job number one for me is the safety and security of the nine million residents who call this great state their home… It’s simple: when folks have confidence that they can come out of the shadows into the sunlight,” they can be safer and communities get safer. He also noted he wants an environmental record no other state can touch and that “we are way overdue for ethics reform in this state… Let’s fix this once and for all.”

Murphy also took questions, pre-written, from the audience. The first question asked if it is important for young people to serve on governor’s boards and commissions. “One hundred percent,” Murphy answered, and said there is a gap between the importance and opportunities for doing so.

“What are your strategic goals to reduce gun violence and how do you quantify success?” a woman named Lucinda asked. Murphy said he has passed laws and signed executive orders strengthening gun laws, because 80 percent of the guns used in crimes in New Jersey come in illegally from other states. “That’s why we formed States for Gun Safety,” he said, which share intelligence and research. “It pales in comparison to what we actually need, which is federal legislation,” he noted. He also said there is an ammunition bill in the pipeline but “we will not be in the promised land until we get federal legislation.”

Johanna Ginsberg of Maplewood asked, “What are you doing about NJ Transit?” Murphy said he has seen government funding of NJ Transit, “and not on the commuter’s back,” more engineers are being trained, an upgraded mobile app, and “we’re about to make big investments of rolling stock and buses and other equipment. On the stuff we can control, I feel we’re making slow and steady progress,” he said. Yet, he noted, “the big X factor…is that we need more tunnels under the Hudson River.”

Rennelle C. Martin asked why the cost of health care in the state is so high. She explained that her insurance was cut by her employer while she was undergoing cancer treatment. Murphy approached her and gave her a hug before answering. He said that although New Jersey has great health care, it’s too expensive “and not enough of us have access to it.” To remedy that, “we’re building our own health care exchange in New Jersey,” he said. He said consumers would “get much more bang for our buck” on the exchange, which he said would be ready for the next enrollment period in the fall of this year.