The Murphy administration today fired an ally of Ocean County Democratic Chairman Wyatt Earp from his job running the state Motor Vehicle Commission office in Stafford Township in what could be viewed as retaliation for Ocean Democrats supporting LeRoy Jones, Jr. for state party chairman.
Michael Bateman, a 69-year-old Democrat who was hired by Gov. Phil Murphy, was terminated today, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
The Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) declined to discuss the firing.
“We don’t comment on personnel issues,” said Jim Hooker, a spokesman for the agency.
B. Sue Fulton, the chief administrator of the commission, also refused to address Bateman’s termination.
“MVC doesn’t comment on personnel issues,” Fulton told the Globe.
Bateman was delivered the news of his firing by MVC deputy administrator for agency operations Kim DiGiovanni-Abatto and MVC agency services coordinator Keith Kratzner, who arrived unannounced at 2 PM today.
Jobs at the three Ocean County motor vehicle agencies have been a point of contention between Murphy and Earp over the last year.
Earp had sought the posts – long considered plum political appointments in New Jersey – after Murphy took office last year.
Bateman was hired, but Murphy has kept Toms River Councilwoman Maria Maruca, a Republican allied with former GOP County Chairman George Gilmore, in her post for the last two years.
Maruca was hired in 2010 after Gov. Chris Christie fired a Democrat who had been appointed by Gov. Jon Corzine.
That Democrat, former Lakewood Mayor Marta Harrison, is a Democratic State Committeewoman who was recently picked by Jones to be his running mate for state party vice chair.
A third motor vehicle agency post that Earp had expected to go to a Democrat was instead given to a Republican recommended by State Sen. Robert Singer (R-Lakewood), reportedly as part of a deal connected to the senator’s cooperation on an unrelated matter.
Earp had remain uncommitted in the race between Jones and incumbent John Currie until two weeks ago.
His endorsement pushed Jones over the 49 ½ votes he needed to take the lead in a contentious intra-party battle that could deny Murphy, the titular head of the party, control of the Democratic State Committee.
Bateman, a former South Toms River municipal court judge, was the Democratic candidate for the Toms River Township Council in 2015. He was the lone Democrat to get a motor vehicle agency post in Ocean County.
Currie had served as the motor vehicle agent in Passaic County during Gov. Jim Florio’s administration.
Click play for audio version of this story