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Chief of Staff to the Governor George Helmy. (Photo: New Jersey Democratic State Committee).

Helmy joining Murphy campaign for final stretch, resigning as chief of staff

Governor’s top advisor is likely to return after Election Day

By David Wildstein, October 13 2021 11:00 am

George Helmy is resigning as the Gov. Phil Murphy’s chief of staff and will work full-time on the governor’s re-election campaign for the final 18 days, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

“Though a final decision has not been made, he may rejoin the administration after the election,” an administration source said.

Murphy’s chief policy advisor, Zakiya Smith Ellis, will serve as acting chief of staff.

Helmy’s resignation is effective at close of business on Friday.

The move gives Helmy the ability to focus entirely on politics and getting the governor a second term without the encumbrances of being a state employee.  It gives Murphy a win-focused sledge hammer to supplement the campaign team.

A complete separation from the government side mirrors Helmy’s decision to have Matt Platkin resign as chief counsel in January 2020 to become special counsel to U.S. Senator Cory Booker during the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.    Murphy hired Platkin back two weeks later, ending Robert Garrenger’s tenure as acting chief counsel.

Helmy has served as chief of staff since February 2019, when Murphy hit the reset button after his first year as governor and gave the job to Booker’s state director.  He replaced Pete Cammarano, who resigned after 11 months in the post and left a month later.

A Jersey City native, Helmy was Booker’s deputy chief of staff for two years before becoming state director three years ago.  He also has private sector experience with a pair of Fortune 500 companies and was an aide to the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg.  He has been number two on the New Jersey Globe Power List for the last two years.

When Gov. Tom Kean took when he sought re-election in 1985.  His chief of staff, Greg Stevens, essentially ran the campaign from the statehouse with a functionary, Bill Palatucci, holding the title of campaign manager.   Tom Shea, Gov. Jon Corzine’s closest political advisor and his chief of staff for the first two years, was a senior advisor on the 2009 re-election campaign.

Smith Ellis becomes the first woman of color to serve as chief of staff to a New Jersey governor since Lisa Jackson held the post in 2008.  Jackson, a former Commissioner of Environmental Protection, held the post for just a few days in December 2008 before President-elect Barack Obama nominated her to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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