Seton Hall Law at Work: Raj Mukherji and Michael Murphy, Partners at Lobbying Firm, Impact NJ
Raj Mukherji '13 (left) and Michael Murphy '74 (right) have built New Jersey's third-largest state lobbying firm by combining their decades of experience. Though Mukherji, who graduates this month, is only 27 years old, he has accomplished more in the last 12 years than most people achieve in a lifetime.
It is two days after Superstorm Sandy has swept the New Jersey coast, into the New York Harbor. Statewide power outages have closed businesses and schools, and unprecedented flooding and wind damage have disabled virtually every train line that runs up the coast and across the Hudson River into New York City.
Parts of Jersey City were hit hard. With nearly 90 percent of the town without power and most traffic lights out, the City has imposed vehicle and pedestrian curfews for the safety of its 250,000 residents. With City Hall flooded and powerless, Mayor Jerramiah Healy ’77, his two Deputy Mayors, senior staff, and police and fire brass have assembled a makeshift command center at Jersey City’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Healy has twice spoken to President Obama personally and is working with state and federal officials to restore the city to some normalcy and, while overseeing the city’s disaster response, he is being advised by Deputy Mayor Raj Mukherji ’13. Mukherji himself was tapped with overseeing certain aspects of the recovery, including the most vulnerable residents scattered in public housing and senior citizen affordable housing developments throughout the city.
Mukherji, a businessman and veteran of military intelligence, reflects on that tumultuous week at the Office of Emergency Management headquarters: “The issues were piling on. Some were displaced from their homes, like my fiancée in Hoboken. Others lost their cars – there were parking lots of floating cars – and traffic lights were out. Still others lost personal possessions. Two residents of Jersey City, out of 40 in the state, lost their lives as a result of Sandy including a longtime city employee. People were without heat and power for days, even weeks, and they were getting increasingly frustrated that nobody could tell them precisely when power would be restored.
“You’re making split-second decisions on matters like a vehicle curfew to enable our emergency vehicles to get around on gridlocked streets, business and pedestrian curfews to minimize looting and nefarious activity, and figuring out which city offices and agencies should be deemed essential. Then you’ve got investment banks on our waterfront, which has come to be known as Wall Street West, saying that if the stock exchange opens the next day, they absolutely need their employees to be able to get to work. And all of a sudden, you’re balancing public safety with significant economic considerations. We were able to accommodate them with buses. At times, intelligent, talented, seasoned public safety professionals in the room can’t agree on the best course of action. As a former Marine Corps reservist, I’ve had experience working within a chain of command. But it was a totally different challenge advising the person at the top of the chain of command. And you’re praying that you’re making the right calls.”
Three weeks later, Mukherji finds himself featured on the White House website alongside Mayor Healy and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan, tapped by the President to be the region's recovery czar, after Secretary Donovan toured damage to a Jersey City public housing complex with Mukherji. (Mukherji is pictured at left with U.S. Secretary of HUD Shaun Donovan.)
Fortunately, Mukherji is used to leading – and multi-tasking. After enrolling in college at age 15, he grew an Internet consulting and software business he founded in middle school and sold the company after enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve in the aftermath of September 11. After college, he earned an individualized Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania while co-founding Impact NJ, a lobbying firm that the New Jersey Law Journal has ranked as the third-largest in the state for the past three years. At the age of 24, Mukherji was appointed the youngest Chairman in the history of the Jersey City Housing Authority, which uses federal subsidies to serve 17,000 low-income residents, providing, he says, “the housing of last resort for our tenants – and the only thing that stands between them and homelessness.”
Heralded for his successful efforts in bringing the Authority out of a beleaguered state over the last four years, Mukherji was appointed and sworn in as Deputy Mayor this past March. His duties at the state’s second- largest city encompass a $500 million operating budget and a workforce of over 2,600 municipal employees. His role puts in him charge of coordinating state and federal advocacy efforts, such as economic development and job creation incentives to attract capital investment and development, and grants and appropriations for transportation, public safety and affordable housing. He also appears as a surrogate for the Mayor at public events. (Pictured at his swearing-in ceremony, with Jersey City Mayor Jerriamiah Healy)
Mukherji refers to his role in Jersey City as his “day job,” since he attends Seton Hall Law in the evening as a Chancellor’s Scholar and will graduate this month. He is also active in student life. For the past two years, he served as the SBA’s representative to the Dean’s Diversity Council, and last year, he served as Treasurer of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA). He participates in the rigorous Southern District of New York Mediation Practicum, which represents pro se claimants in employment discrimination mediations in the federal courts. And he also serves on the Law School’s Mock Trial Board, where he notched perfect scores for his cross examinations and closing arguments in national competitions in Chicago and Philadelphia.
If Mukherji’s young adulthood seems extraordinarily driven, much of it was born of necessity: when he was a high school freshman, his father, an accountant who had immigrated to the U.S. in 1970, suffered a stroke and other ailments after previously surviving a pituitary tumor. Although both parents were longtime American citizens, Mukherji says, “My dad couldn’t work because of his health, but he couldn’t afford health coverage if he wasn’t working. Their only feasible option economically was to return to their native India where they could afford the cost of living and get care while unable to work. It sparked my interest in healthcare policy and in the problem of access and availability of healthcare in the world’s greatest democracy.” Mukherji stayed in the U.S. by himself and, as an emancipated minor, supported himself through his technology company and real estate investments.
Within a few years, Mukherji found his opportunity to advocate in the healthcare policy arena. Through his Internet company that worked for numerous political campaign clients, he started meeting elected officials in his teens and found himself drawn to issues of public policy. One such client was Michael Murphy ’74, the former Morris County Prosecutor and a 1997 candidate for Governor of New Jersey – a job previously held by Murphy's stepfather, the late Governor and New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard J. Hughes. (A life-size statue of Gov. Hughes greets Law School visitors at the entrance in the lobby.) Murphy’s daughter, Meredith Murphy ’06, is also a Law School alumna.
Years later, recognizing their common interests, Mukherji and Murphy founded the lobbying firm, Impact NJ, in 2004, when Mukherji was 19. Many of their clients have been healthcare providers such as urban hospitals with a high percentage of indigent patients, giving Mukherji an opportunity to fight to expand charity care, Medicaid, and stabilization funding to improve access to healthcare for New Jersey’s underprivileged, while brokering the complex multimillion dollar sales of hospitals and nursing homes.
The firm also participated in the lobbying effort to legalize medical marijuana in New Jersey for patients with serious debilitating conditions or terminal illnesses, and Mukherji represented one of the six nonprofits licensed by the State to cultivate and dispense medicinal marijuana. While retained by the City of Newark, Mukherji served as Mayor Cory Booker’s legislative advocate in Trenton and Washington. Previously, Mukherji and Murphy represented the organization, New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, in a successful advocacy effort to abolish New Jersey’s death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without parole. Impact also represented the healthcare ministry of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark and was involved in the sale of its hospitals to Catholic Health East, and the firm represented the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority while successfully advocating to expand its powers to develop professional football training facilities for an NFL team as well as legislation revising horse racing regulations in New Jersey.
Mr. Murphy, a Life Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, recalls, “After practicing law for 30 years, when Raj approached me with the idea of starting a lobbying firm together, it seemed like the perfect combination of advocacy and the relationships I had built over a lifetime.”
“Raj’s success as a lobbyist is attributable to his passion, intellect, and his integrity,” Mr. Murphy adds. “Elected and appointed public officials trust his judgment because they know him to be credible and candid. His affable, humble, disarming personality also helps.”
As lobbyists, Mukherji and Murphy only champion causes that they both truly believe in. This is the cornerstone of their professional philosophy and the strength of their chemistry. Of his relationship with Murphy, Mukherji explains, “Despite the age difference, we truly are contemporaries and we understand each other. If either of us feels uncomfortable about a prospective client or the position they want us to advocate, we fully support the other in turning down the engagement. And by the grace of God, we are fortunate to be in a position where we can afford to do that.”
Murphy agrees with his much younger co-founder: “Besides, it’s more satisfying doing battle on behalf of the Davids than the Goliaths.” Not that Impact hasn’t represented its share of Goliaths. According to state lobbying disclosures, the duo has served as the New Jersey lobbyist for Fortune 500 clients such as Walgreens, LabCorp, Waste Management, and Juniper.
Though Murphy is a Seton Hall Law alumnus, Mukherji needed no encouragement to attend law school. He was always inspired to pursue a law degree – “ever since I watched Matlock as a kid, and read John Grisham novels like The Client.” He discovered Seton Hall Law on his own, impressed by the law school’s health law curriculum, its evening division and the loyalty of its alumni network. He says, “I’ve loved everything about the school – the faculty, the student body, and the fact that even the evening students have such a strong camaraderie.”
Mukherji transitioned into his roles in Jersey City through the relationships he built as a lobbyist. He is not lobbying at Impact NJ while he serves with the City, and the entire firm is not representing any clients before Jersey City or its agencies. Mukherji takes great pride in his work at the helm of the Housing Authority, which has realized tangible benefits for thousands of Jersey City residents. He is especially proud of a new HOPE VI-revitalized mixed-income community that now stands in place of high-rise buildings, which he calls “crime-ridden, vertical concentrations of poverty from the old era of public housing.” Today, the development comprises mixed-income townhouse style developments with the amenities of luxury condos: high ceilings, large, energy-efficient windows and open spaces. He says, “There’s no reason that affordable housing should be distinguishable from market rate housing, and their residents should have access to the comforts we all value. This has also helped transform rough parts of town into communities where people can feel safe and secure.” Mukherji plans to apply the same philosophy to transform the McGinley Square-Montgomery Gardens area, a $300-million revitalization effort. During a visit to Jersey City while delivering a grant to help Jersey City on its way to achieving that goal, Secretary Donovan praised Mukherji as one of the “most accomplished leaders [of public housing in the country] in a short period of time.”
With graduation looming, Mukherji has considered his career options. He wants to remain in Jersey City for the time being and plans to take the February bar exam. He and Michael Murphy have considered transforming Impact NJ from a lobbying firm to a law firm with a public policy arm, since a number of its staffers are lawyers with prior big firm experience.
By the age of 27, Raj Mukherji has already accomplished more than many achieve in a lifetime. When asked if he is inspired by vision or ambition or a dedication to serve, he shakes his head and replies, “It’s much simpler than that. It’s about having fun. I’ve been very, very blessed. The businesses, the Marines, the lobbying, city government, law school – I find something new to enjoy in each new challenge every day. It never feels like I’m juggling, because it never feels like work. I’m just having a blast.”