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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy won’t comment on Neuwirth firing

Governor silent on departure of senior Department of Health official

By Nikita Biryukov, May 29 2020 3:00 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy declined to comment on the firing of a top Department of Health official who has claimed he was made a scapegoat.

“I got no comment on any personnel — 64,000 people I believe work for me, not counting the authorities — so people come and go a fair amount actually when you’ve got 64,000 people,” Murphy said.

Christopher Neuwirth wasn’t just any employee. He served as assistant commissioner of Public Health Infrastructure, Laboratories & Emergency Preparedness and oversaw emergency medical services and the state office of Disaster Resilience and made multiple appearances at the governor’s early COVID-19 briefings.

Two sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the New Jersey Globe that Neuwirth was terminated for cause.

His firing was not announced by the administration, and Murphy on Friday declined to say why the administration did not alert the public to the departure of a senior health official amid a pandemic that has killed at least 11,531 New Jerseyans.

While working for the Department of Health, Neuwirth held a separate private post Margolis Healy & Associates, a national emergency management consulting firm affiliated with the politically-connected Cozen O’Connor law firm.

The New Jersey Globe has learned that the consulting firm became overloaded with work and drew Neuwirth’s attention away from his public sector duties.

Murphy indicated that the fired official’s moonlighting may have been a factor in his separation, albeit cagily.

“I’ve got no comment on Chris’s situation, but I will say this: It’s par for the course that you’re not supposed to have another source of income as a general matter,” he said.

The governor declined to say whether any other senior members of his administration had part-time jobs in the private sector.

In a Facebook post available only to his friends and obtained by the New Jersey Globe, Neuwirth claimed he was being scapegoated

I was blatantly scapegoated and fired from the job that I spent my entire professional career working toward to achieve,” Neuwirth said. “While I’m confident that I’ll land on my feet the people actually responsible for the lies and misconduct that resulted in my termination should know that their actions affected more than just me today.”

The governor did not address those allegations, citing a policy against commenting on personnel matters, though Murphy has spoken publicly — and at length — about the resignation of former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez, who resigned in October 2018 after media inquiries about sexual assault allegations leveled against him by state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan.

Neuwirth’s separation from state government has already launched calls for investigations from some Republican lawmakers.

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