Gov. Phil Murphy will nominate three new commissioners to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as part of a deal that allows Kevin O’Toole to remain as chairman of the powerful bi-state agency.
Murphy will end a three-year logjam by naming Robert J. Menendez, Dana Martinotti, and Michelle Richardson to serve as commissioners.
Kevin McCabe, the Middlesex County Democratic Chairman, will be renominated to a six-year term as part of the Port Authority package.
Murphy will withdraw the nomination of Amy Rosen, who has gone nearly three years without getting confirmed by the Democratic-controlled State Senate.
Sources say that Rosen will be appointed to a high-profile board related to infrastructure.
O’Toole, a Republican who resigned his State Senate seat in 2017 after being confirmed as a Port Authority Commissioner, had skillfully set up a series of political landmines to prevent his replacement by a Democratic governor.
Senate President Steve Sweeney had refused to move the nominations of any Port Authority commissioner without a commitment that O’Toole would remain as chairman.
Several key Democrats in the Senate had publicly backed O’Toole, with some offering to use senatorial courtesy to block Murphy’s nominations.
The framework for the approval of Port Authority nominations remains largely the same as first reported by the New Jersey Globe in June 2018: Murphy would pick one commissioner; Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg would approve one from Bergen County, and the third seat, at the direction of Sweeney, would go to Senate Deputy Majority Leader Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) to give Hudson County a seat.
The nominations would create the most diverse Port Authority board from the New Jersey side in the last 100 years — a Korean American chairman (O’Toole), the first Black woman (Richardson) and the first Hispanic (Menendez) commissioners, and the first time there are two women. It also gives Hudson County two seats; the county has not been represented on the Port Authority since Robert Janiszewski served in the 1990s.
The package of commissioners comes after months of negotiating by Murphy’s chief of staff, George Helmy. Murphy, the NJ Globe has learned, was focused on diversity and a protection of New Jersey’s interests at the agency.
Menendez, 35, is the son of Bob Menendez, the state’s senior U.S. Senator and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. An attorney who specializes in private equity funds, Menendez is among the youngest Port Authority commissioners in history, but also among a rare group that has worked at the bistate agency: while in law school, he was a fellow in the Port Commerce Department.
There had been speculation that Menendez was interested in challenging Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop in the November 2021 non-partisan municipal election, but he has taken no steps to enter the race.
The 57-year-old Martinotti is a political ally of Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano and her nomination has been approved by Weinberg, who had insisted on Bergen County representation on the Board of Commissioners. The public school principal has served on the Cliffside Park Borough Council since 2001.
Richardson, 65, is the executive director of the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation. She previously served as director of the Hudson County Department of Parks and Community Services and had been Assistant Commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development under Gov. Jon Corzine. Richardson is married to Joseph C. Charles, who has served as a Superior Court Judge, state senator and assemblyman.
If Murphy’s picks are confirmed, it would end the terms of David Steiner and Richard Bagger as commissioners.
Steiner, a 91-year-old real estate developer from West Orange, is among the most consequential commissioners in the agency’s history. He was named to the board in 2003 by Gov. James E. McGreevey and renominated by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011.
Christie initially wanted to replace Steiner, a major national Democratic fundraiser, but backed down as part of a deal to get his pick for Port Authority chairman, David Samson, through the State Senate.
Steiner deftly maneuvered his reappointment by convincing a Democratic senator to block Samson until he was included as part of a package.
A former state senator, Bagger had been Christie’s first chief of staff. He was named to the Port Authority Board of Commissioners in 2012 and has been on holdover status for the last three years. After a brief stint as executive director of President-elect Donald Trump — he was among the casualties after Trump canned Christie just days after the election, Bagger currently works for Christie’s consulting firm.
One of New Jersey’s six commissioner seats has been vacant since April 2018, when Caren Z. Turner resigned after an incident with police in her hometown of Tenafly.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop praised the nomination of two Jersey City residents to serve as commissioners of an agency that directly affects his city.
“It’s great to have Hudson County finally represented on the Port Authority and I congratulate Michelle Richardson and Bob Menendez Jr. on their nomination,” Fulop said. “In Jersey City, we have some big challenges with mass transit and some big projects that we have been working with the Pott Authority on, in particular around the proposed PATH Station on West Side. I’m looking forward to meeting with both Bob and Michelle in the near future and working closely with them to move Hudson County forward”
Another longtime commissioner, Raymond Pocino, the vice president and eastern regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, remains on the board. Pocino is one of the most powerful labor leaders in the state and Murphy would be unlikely to replace him.
A former New Jersey Transit board member from Montclair, Rosen had some financial ties to the Port Authority.
Her firm, Public Financial Management, earned nearly $2.8 million through a contract with the Port Authority, including $350,000-a-year from 2014 through 2018, when the business was sold.
The firm briefly lost their contract under Christie, but had it restored when John Degnan, who had served in Gov. Brendan Byrne’s cabinet with Rosen’s husband, Tim Carden, became Port Authority chairman. PFM continues to work for the agency.
This story was updated at 4:12 PM with comment from Fulop.