James P. Fox, 62, died Monday of heart failure at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden. Fox was born in Elizabeth and grew up in neighboring Union Township, before attending Villanova University, where he earned a degree in political science.
Known throughout the political world as ‘Jamie Fox,’ the St. Patrick’s High School graduate had vast influence in the state for decades, as a top aide to several US Senators and official in four governors’ administrations.
Fox became transportation commissioner in September 2014, as a surprise choice for the job by Republican Chris Christie, although he held the same post under former Democratic Gov. James E. McGreevey
Fox had served as a top aide to former U.S. Sen. Robert G. Torricelli and the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, both Democrats.
He was Torricelli’s Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. He was deputy chief of staff for former New Jersey Gov. James Florio. Fox also worked for Democrat Jon Corzine.
From 1999 to 2001, Fox was the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Torricelli chaired. In 2002, McGreevey appointed Fox as the state transportation commissioner and the following year, he became Chief of Staff to the Governor, a position he held until McGreevey’s November 2004 resignation.
Following McGreevey’s resignation, he became Deputy Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), where he administered the New York region’s three airports, seaports, the PATH commuter train system and the development of the World Trade Center site.
In 2008, Fox was Senior Advisor for the Obama/Biden campaign, working out of the Florida HQ in Tampa.
In between his stints with government and campaigns, he was a partner at Fox and Shuffler, a private government affairs consulting firm.
Fox’s departure from the Christie administration came as federal investigators probed negotiations between United and the Port Authority over the initiation of a regularly scheduled, non-stop flight to an airport near the South Carolina summer home of the former Port Authority chairman, David Samson, that was the subject of a federal criminal investigation.
Samson pleaded guilty on July 14, 2016 to one charge of bribery for accepting a benefit of more than $5,000 from United Airlines before U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares for coercing one of the nation’s largest airlines to accommodate his desire.
Throughout the months since his indictment, Fox vehemently defended his innocence and many observers say he still commanded vast respect among political insiders who never doubted his integrity but in 2015, NJPR’s Matt Katz and WNYC’s David Furst called Fox “untouchable” as he avoided the scrutiny of legislators investigating “two of the most notorious scandals to hit the administration,” Christie’s transportation commissioner during Bridgegate and as a former United Airlines lobbyist, later accused of setting up the ‘Chairman’s flight.’
Despite the legal troubles that some friends say hastened his death, Fox was warmly remembered bu associates from all parts of the political spectrum.
“After a lifetime in politics, fighting one tough campaign after another, serving in the cabinet of two governors, he somehow won the unreserved affection and respect of people on both sides of the aisle,” wrote Star Ledger editor Tom Moran. “He was a Democrat, and not a gentle one. But when the bell rang, he put his weapons down and looked for the human beings behind the opponent’s armor.”
“Jamie was a fierce competitor who fought for causes, issues and people he believed in, but he was also able to share a friendship and mutual respect with those on the other side of the political aisle,” said GOP operative Mike Duhaime. “Jamie was old school in that being a political adversary did not mean you were enemies.”
“Jamie was a good man, among the best. He believed in the possible, the ability of government to achieve good things, the hope to achieve our better angels,” said McGreevey. “He would always lend a helping hand regardless of a person’s affiliation or tribe; he understood we are each human trying to do our best.”
“Jamie was gay, and never found his soul mate. But he had a truckload of friends, and I will always count myself lucky to have been among them,” said Moran.
“I knew Jamie forever so it will be hard to imagine a world without him in it,” said Democratic political strategist James J. Devine, whose father was best friends with Fox’s dad. “Jamie’s father, my Uncle Buzzy, gave me my first job after high school, and I worked very closely with Jamie in the early 1990s, when he was in the governor’s office and I was at the Democratic State Committee. He used to blame me for giving him chicken pox when I was nine years old but he also said I would always have value because I had talent. He was inspiring.”
Fox is survived by his brother, Tom (Nancy Kero), of Newton, N.J.; sisters, Judy (Dan Higgins) of Elizabeth, N.J., Jane Fox of Delray Beach, Florida, and Meg (Don Koscheka) of Red Bank, N.J.; as well as numerous nieces and nephews. A brother, Robert, predeceased him, as did a niece, Erin H. Fox, and his parents, Margaret O’Connor Fox and Edward “Buzzy” Fox.
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