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

Murphy won’t say if Neuwirth put New Jerseyans at risk

Governor’s reticence on senior Department of Health official’s ouster continues

By Nikita Biryukov, June 02 2020 3:26 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy refused to say whether he fired a top advisor in charge of the state’s emergency response to the coronavirus pandemic because he endangered the lives of New Jersey residents.

“I hate to disappoint you: we don’t comment on personnel matters,” Murphy said.

Murphy has steadfastly refused to comment on why Christopher Neuwirth, the former assistant commissioner of Public Health Infrastructure, Laboratories and Emergency Preparedness was abruptly fired from his $127,386-a-year job on May 28.

So far, his administration has declined to identify the reason for his termination.

The New Jersey Globe first reported Neuwirth’s ouster last week.

Murphy also refused to comment on a hypothetical posed to him by the Globe about whether he would have accepted a “we don’t comment on personnel matters” response from former Gov. Chris Christie during a similar health crisis in 2017, when he was campaigning for governor.

“You’ll have to ask Governor Christie,” Murphy said.

Neuwirth also oversaw emergency medical services and the state office of Disaster Resilience and appeared alongside Murphy at several of the governor’s early COVID-19 briefings in March.

His portfolio in handling critical components to Murphy’s bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus could allow some residents to wonder if Neuwirth’s firing was related to the bungling of life and death issues.

Murphy refused to say.

Neuwirth was senior enough to be seated with Murphy at early press briefings on the pandemic.

There is speculation – backed up by several sources – that Neuwirth’s firing was related to a side-job he held with Margolis Healy & Associates, a national emergency management consulting firm that is affiliated with the Cozen O’Connor law firm and was not noted on Neuwirth’s financial disclosure.

Neuwirth has been an employee there for two years, according to the Margolis Neuwirth website.

Sources have told the New Jersey Globe that the consulting firm saw an influx of business amid the pandemic that forced Neuwirth to devote greater time to his private-sector job.

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

While Neuwirth faced some criticism for poor attendance at the Department of Health post, it’s not clear that’s why he was fired.

Neuwirth says he was scapegoated.

The former assistant commissioner was among the officials Murphy’s administration suspected of leaking embarrassing information about the inner workings of the administration during the pandemic, two sources confirmed to the New Jersey Globe.

Neuwirth’s inclusion on that list was first reported by the (Bergen) Record.

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