Garden State getting politics as usual

New Jersey’s next Governor is following a predictable path for Garden State politics, with perhaps an unusual number of appointees who are linked to the outgoing Republican administration.

Gov.-elect Phil Murphy will nominate Lt. Gov.-elect Sheila Oliver as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, Mercer County Democratic Chairwoman Elizabeth Muoio to be state treasurer and Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal as attorney general. 

The selections tick off a variety of points for diversity but not for political independence. Murphy said he will “have a cabinet that doesn’t just have the best and the brightest, but looks like our state.”

Grewal was named to his current post by outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who Murphy is blaming for many problems he might be unable to solve despite his campaign promises.

New Jersey’s is among the lowest credit ratings in the nation, second only to Illinois, according to the “Big Three credit rating agencies” Fitch Ratings Inc., Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.

Those credit agencies downgraded New Jersey’s bond rating 11 times since Christie took office eight years ago, creating pressure on the nearly $35 billion state budget.

That will be a challenge new to Muoio, a member of the General Assembly employed as Mercer County director of Economic Development, who earned a law degree from Georgetown University and a B.A. in History from Wesleyan University.

Muoio does not appear to have any background in accounting or banking, but she is a woman with close ties to Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes and a power base of her own as one of Democratic county chairs.

Murphy was present to support Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who endorsed Christie — a  Republican — in 2013 and announced his 2018 re-election campaign backed by a mass of Democratic politicians from all over the state.

Oliver has been employed in Essex County government, as County Administrator under DiVincenzo.

Since defeating Republican Kim Guadagno in November, Murphy also said he will support US Senator Robert Menendez, fresh off his mistrial on federal bribery and corruption charges.

Observers say they expect Murphy to name other top officials who represent a cross section of ethnicities but owe strong loyalties to the political establishment, particularly South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross and other county party leaders.


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