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Grapevine: Miss on hospital merger

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All the recent talk of hospital mergers had one source recalling the match that never was: Meridian and Robert Wood Johnson. The two hospital systems courted each other a couple years ago, with approximate dates for the talks being germination in 2010 and conclusion in spring 2011, the source said.

"Their leadership had many meetings," the source said.

It would have been a full merger, including boards and leadership. "(John) Lloyd would have been CEO because of his talent level," the source said. But leadership apparently became a sticking point on the deal when Robert Wood Johnson wanted one of their people to replace Lloyd whenever he retired, while others felt the new board for the merged system should get to pick Lloyd's successor.

The source called the thwarted merger a "missed opportunity" and opined that if Robert Barchi had been around back then, the Rutgers president would have gotten involved to help pull off the deal.

Neither hospital system would confirm the discussions.

"Robert Wood Johnson Health System — like most forward-thinking health systems — has discussions with other health systems to explore opportunities for collaboration," said spokesman Peter Haigney in an e-mail. "It is our policy however not to speak publicly on specifics of any of these discussions."

Meridian declined to comment.

Hudson Holdco not a bidder

In response to a Jan. 14 NJBIZ Grapevine item, Hudson Holdco LLC issued a statement last week saying it was not one of the final three ownership groups in a bid for Raritan Bay Medical Center's two hospitals.

Raritan Bay confirmed it is in the process of evaluating partnership bids, but would not identify the bidders.

When asked when discussions had taken place, Holdco spokesman Spencer Baretz said his company expressed interest but no discussions occurred before Raritan Bay said Holdco would not be invited to bid.

Raritan Bay declined to comment last week.

Buono not in Kansas anymore

George Norcross surprised some political observers last week by throwing support behind Barbara Buono in her bid to be the Democratic candidate in the governor's race. Norcross told Politicker NJ Buono is a "high quality candidate, and in the absence of anyone else, the party ought to rally around her and move forward."

In typical Norcross fashion, the South Jersey powerbroker also took a swipe at a political nemesis, Dick Codey, saying the former governor wanted the attention of people encouraging him to run, and saying Codey's indecision was akin to a Brett Favre fiasco. Norcross also apparently compared Codey to the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, but, in a disappointment to readers, the direct quote was not published.

What does it all mean? Well, for one, Steve Sweeney isn't running, as Grapevine first reported Dec. 10. There's no way Norcross would snub his childhood pal from Pennsauken in favor of Buono.

Also, one observer said Norcross could be baiting Codey into running, because Codey would be "committing political suicide" if he ran. Baiting? Strategy? Intrigue? Sounds worthy of a wizard, or Norcross.

Murphy's law

Another Dem's name briefly surfaced last week as a possibility for statewide office: Phil Murphy. A tipster said the ambassador to Germany was mulling a statewide run, either for governor or, more likely, Frank Lautenberg's U.S. Senate seat.

But Grapevine's best political sources quickly quashed the tip. It appears the rumor circulated a while ago, approximately last summer, but had been quiet ever since.

"I guess since no one heard that he was making the rounds with party leaders it kind of died," said one source.

The sources noted Murphy chaired a New Jersey benefits reform commission in the mid-2000s and was "ahead of his time on the issue," as one source put it, and working on "financial issues that Corzine ignored," as another noted.

Irish eyes smiling at Gibbons

There was a wearing o' the green at Gibbons last week, as Patrick Dunican hosted a 60-day countdown party for Newark's St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 15. An Irish band played while guests noshed on corned beef and cabbage. Dunican, the law firm's chairman, has been selected to be the grand marshal of the 2013 parade.

The reception brought together business and civic leaders who are members of a parade committee organized by Dunican.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Sharon Waters at sharonw@njbiz.com.

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