NEWARK, N.J. -- Here's a name you'll be hearing a lot about over the next three years in New Jersey politics: Philip D. Murphy.

A former Goldman Sachs executive and national finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, Murphy was U.S. ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013.

On Monday, he officially launched a nonprofit advocacy organization called New Start New Jersey, which says it wants to strengthen the state's economy "from the middle class out."

In doing so, Murphy also unofficially launched a shadow campaign for governor. Murphy hasn't hidden his ambitions -- he told my Statehouse colleague Matt Friedman of the Star-Ledger in May that he's "very serious" about considering a run for governor.

(Read more about how he's not the next Jon Corzine here.)

And his work at New Start New Jersey could provide a platform to do just that.

Other Democrats contemplating gubernatorial bids include Senate President Stephen Sweeney of Gloucester County and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

Murphy and his wife, Tammy, cofounders of the nonprofit, held a panel discussion Monday at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark with the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Neera Tanden of the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington, and Cornell Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP.

Afterward, I caught up with Murphy, who is 57 and lives in Middletown, Monmouth County, with Tammy and their four children, to chat about his new gig and future plans.

Surely growing the middle class is an important issue. But why is Murphy the man for the moment?

Three reasons. First, he said, "I'm a proud product of the middle class. We were middle class on a good day."

Second, "I'm a firm believer as a pure economic policy matter that your society is only as strong as your middle class. As your middle class goes, so goes the whole show, period."

Third, he said, "Particularly given the budget constraints that we deal with in New Jersey today, we have to be realistic about how much can actually get done that moves the needle inside of government."

While policymakers in Trenton can make some progress, Murphy told me, "We have to be more creative. We have to look outside the official boundaries of government: public private partnerships, foundations, corporations, communities."

Murphy's new group released a poll he says shows the magnitude of the problem for the middle class: a majority of registered voters in New Jersey say their quality of life is worse than their parents', and two-thirds say their children will be worse off.

Some of his initial ideas to change that: replicating apprenticeship programs in Germany and providing better access to community college.

I also asked Murphy why he would publicly announce his interest in running for governor three years before Gov. Christie's term is to end in 2017.

Here's what he said:

"A, I want to be honest and transparent. That's the big reason. Someone asked me today, if we got funding from other sources other than our own -- my wife and I are funding New Start New Jersey for now -- would I disclose the donors? I said, of course I will. That's what transparency is."

He added, "Secondly, none of this stuff is easy. I've spent my whole life running into buildings that are on fire. I'm not running out of them. That's sort of my philosophy."

A couple other nuggets from our conversation:

* Murphy is "close friends" with Jon Bon Jovi; they spent the day together in Camden about six months ago for an event involving Bon Jovi's foundation.

(Camden is "beginning to tip in the right direction," Murphy says.)

* Murphy is also pals with John Podesta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and now counselor to President Obama. Murphy says he helped Podesta found the Center for American Progress.