The top veterans affairs official in Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration will mount an independent bid for Congress in New Jersey’s 5th district against Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff).
Mark A. Piterski, who retired as a U.S. Army Brigadier General last month, currently serves as Deputy Commissioner for Veterans Affairs in the Murphy administration.
“I’m running as an independent,” Piterski told the New Jersey Globe. “I truly am an independent because I’ve been in uniform. Congress could use more combat veterans.”
Piterski said he informed his boss, New Jersey Adjutant General Jamal J. Beale, last night that he was planning for run for Congress.
The 53-year-old River Vale resident said he decided to run because he thought Gottheimer hasn’t been helpful enough on responding to the needs of veterans dealing with COVID-19.
“I invited him to the veterans home to see the operations,” Piterski said. “He declined.”
The New Jersey Globe has learned that Gottheimer’s reason for not touring the facility was Murphy’s executive order banning unnecessary public gatherings.
He said that national shortage of nursing staff has hit New Jersey especially hard.
“My only gripe is I was asked what I needed. I told them I need nurses for veterans homes. They didn’t send them until yesterday,” Piterski said. “I take offense to that.”
Piterski said he was “middle of the road on all policy matters.”
“Maybe that is needed right now in Congress,” he said. “Not one way or the other.”
As deputy commissioner, Piterski runs two divisions that serve more than 300,000 veterans in the state on behalf of the Murphy administration: the Division of Veterans Healthcare Services, which operates three state-run, long-term care veterans homes; and the Division of Veterans Services, which coordinates a multitude of benefits programs for veterans living in New Jersey.
Among the facilities Piterski runs is the Paramus Veterans Memorial Home, which has faced criticism over the last week after eight coronavirus-related deaths.
The (Bergen) Record reported that the family of one 91-year-old veteran was recovering from COVID-19 when he had actually passed away hours earlier.
Gottheimer and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) have been of been critical of the Paramus home’s management.
Piterski began his military career in 1989 as an platoon leader of the Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry in 1989. He held a multitude of command posts and was awarded the Bronze Star before becoming Chief of Staff of the New Jersey National Guard.
He was the Acting Deputy Adjutant General for the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs for the first three months of Murphy’s governorship.
This story was updated at 4:56 PM.