For months, the organization that represents the New Jersey restaurant industry has been calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to allow limited-capacity indoor dining with strict sanitation protocols. But Murphy has continually turned thumbs down to the idea, saying it’s just not safe and “we’re not there yet.”

Now questions are being raised about whether Murphy has been putting off meeting with Marilou Halvorsen, the president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, or if his handlers failed to tell him the group has been trying to get a meeting with him since June.

On Wednesday, Murphy said he had only just received a text from Halvorsen that morning.

“That’s the first text I’ve gotten from her and if she sees it differently she’s welcome to correct the record. But I can’t recall having received a text from her ... for a long time,” he said. “With all due respect, no request for a meeting from either her or someone else has come to me from the Restaurant Association."

In an interview, Halvorsen said that was not accurate.

“We sent an official letter in early June requesting through his office, which is the protocol when you are requesting a meeting with the governor. There were 10 follow-up emails,” she said.

“I was given his cell phone number so out of desperation I had to text him directly,” she said.

Halvorsen said it is true she had only texted the governor once because she was trying to go through the proper channels to arrange a meeting.

“I just didn’t realize the way you have to get a meeting is not going through his office, but to call him directly," she said. "So I’ll know for the future not to go through the office and pick up the phone and call him.”

Murphy said Wednesday that he has responded to Halvorsen’s text requesting a meeting.

“We respect her, we respect her organization, we’ll meet whether it’s me or our team and we’re always willing to meet and happy to meet," he said.

“We have a huge, vibrant, among the most impressive restaurant industries of any American state and we wear that as a badge of honor,” said Murphy. “We want them to be healthy and doing well.”

Halvorsen said she intends to show Murphy data from other states, which indicates limited-capacity indoor dining can be safe.

“You’re seeing that in Connecticut and what we’re seeing in Pennsylvania and even New York, where they’ve had indoor dining and there’s no spike,” she said.

“We need to look at the science and what’s been successful in other states. I want to talk about where we can come up with common areas where we can agree to move this along in a way that he and the commissioner of health feel is appropriate.”

Halvorsen said while there has been a lot of communication with members of the governor’s staff, she and other restaurant officials want to meet with Murphy directly because he is the one making decisions about indoor dining.

She noted that Murphy has had direct meetings with gym owners recently and it would be appropriately for him to meet with the Restaurant Association because the restaurant industry has been severely impacted by the pandemic.

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