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Jamie Fox, longtime N.J. political operative, dies

Jamie Fox, a veteran New Jersey Democratic operative who served governors of both parties, died Monday.

Jamie Fox, 62, a veteran New Jersey Democratic operative who served governors of both parties, died Monday.

Mr. Fox, 62, of Lambertville, N.J., had been battling kidney disease for nearly three years and died from heart failure, said his longtime friend and business partner, Eric Shuffler.

Federal prosecutors in July had charged Mr. Fox with conspiracy to commit bribery, alleging that he participated in a scheme with his friend David Samson, chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, to demand that an airline reinstate a nonstop flight to an airport in South Carolina near Samson's vacation home.

At the time, Mr. Fox and Samson allegedly agreed to the conspiracy in 2011, Mr. Fox ran a lobbying firm whose clients included United Airlines.

Prosecutors accused Mr. Fox and Samson of using the flight as an illicit bargaining chip in negotiations with United over its plans for a new hangar at Newark Liberty International Airport, which is owned by the Port Authority.

Samson, 77, a former state attorney general, pleaded guilty in July to a felony corruption charge and awaits sentencing.

Mr. Fox denied wrongdoing.

"Every core of his being was driven by the fact he wanted to prove his innocence, that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing," his attorney, Michael Critchley Sr., said Monday. "He had the intellectual and spiritual strength to fight. But ultimately his physical strength gave out."

The charge was a stain on an otherwise successful career in government and politics.

Mr. Fox most recently served as transportation commissioner under Gov. Christie, a Republican, for a year before leaving the administration in 2015.

Christie on Monday described Mr. Fox as "one of the most outstanding public servants I have had the honor to know."

"Regardless of party politics, he stepped forward time and again in service to our state," Christie said in a statement. "Jamie Fox was also my friend. He was a kind man beloved by his colleagues, but he also was a tough fighter for those causes and people he believed in every day."

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a friend of nearly 40 years, said of Mr. Fox: "He loved policy and the game of politics, understood government better than most, and was a loyal and true friend."

Mr. Fox was transportation commissioner and chief of staff for former Gov. Jim McGreevey, a Democrat, in the early 2000s. Colleagues praised Mr. Fox for fixing New Jersey's troubled E-ZPass system and overhauling the Division of Motor Vehicles.

He served as deputy executive director of the Port Authority, founded the lobbying firm with his friend Shuffler in 2006, and played a key role in Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, overseeing the Florida operation in the final two months.

"That was one of his proudest things," Shuffler said in an interview. "He loved Obama."

"A legend has passed," David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, tweeted Monday about Mr. Fox.

Mr. Fox "relied on his word as his currency," Shuffler said. "It meant everything to him. That and loyalty. He was fiercely loyal to the people he worked for" and "treated everybody with respect."

Tom Fox described his brother as the "prince of the family."

"He took care of every niece, every nephew, every sibling," he said.

Mr. Fox was raised in Elizabeth, N.J., and graduated from Villanova University.

In addition to his brother, he is survived by three  sisters.

Services will be private; a date for a memorial service has not been set, Shuffler said.