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Gov. Phil Murphy, left, with Kevin O’Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

New package planned for Port Authority nominations

Martinotti, Richardson emerge as possible commissioner candidates; O’Toole will stay

By David Wildstein, May 21 2020 5:31 pm

Another deal is in the works for Gov. Phil Murphy to make his first appointments to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Board of Commissioners, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

The package will include a commitment for Kevin O’Toole, a former Republican state senator, to remain as Port Authority chairman.

The framework for the approval of Port Authority nominations set by Senate President Steve Sweeney remains largely the same as first reported by the Globe in June 2018: Murphy would get to pick one commissioner; Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg would select one from Bergen County, and the third seat would go to Hudson County.

Sweeney has consented to allowing Senate Deputy Majority Leader Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) to make the Hudson pick.

Cliffside Park Council President Dana Martinotti has emerged as the choice of Bergen County Democrats, several sources with knowledge of the appointments said.

Sources also said that Cunningham, after going through several potential options, has now settled on Michelle Richardson, the executive director of the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation.

While nominations to the Port Authority board belong to the governor, Sweeney determines the timetable for Senate confirmation.

Murphy nominated former New Jersey Transit board member Amy Rosen in May 2018, but Sweeney blocked Senate confirmation.  Her nomination expired in January when the last legislative session ended, and Murphy has not renominated her.

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 Gov. Chris Christie, but had it restored when John Degnan, who had served in Gov. Brendan Byrne’s cabinet with Rosen’s husband, became Port Authority chairman.  PFM continues to work for the agency.

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.

Murphy would also replace David Steiner, a legendary Port Authority commissioner first appointed in 2003.  The 90-year-old Steiner has not attended a monthly board meeting since May 2018.

Also slated to be replaced is Richard Bagger, a former state senator and chief of staff to Gov. Chris Christie who has been on holdover status since mid-2018.  In January, Bagger became a partner at Christie 55 Solutions, the former governor’s consulting firm.

Martinotti, a public school teacher and the wife of U.S. District Court Judge Brian Martinotti, has been a councilwoman since 2001.

For a while, it looked like the Bergen seat would go to Christine Ordway, a Democratic state committeewoman and former Assembly candidate.  But Ordway lives in Franklin Lakes and would have required sign-off from State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa), the Senate Minority Conference Leader.

Richardson was the assistant commissioner of Community Affairs and the assistant commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development under Gov. Jon Corzine before becoming director of the Hudson County Department of Parks and Community Services.  She is married to Joseph Charles, a former Superior Court judge and state senator from Jersey City.

Cunningham has considered several potential commissioner picks before settling on Richardson, including former Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-Jersey City), who had little support in Trenton, and former Jersey City Corporation Counsel Jeremy Farrell.

Other candidates could still emerge.

O’Toole has substantial support from Democrats to remain as chairman of the powerful bi-state agency.

Last year, six Democratic state senators – Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus), Brian Stack (D-Union City), Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) and Weinberg – said they wanted O’Toole to continue.

Stack said he would block any appointments from Hudson County without a commitment that O’Toole would be the chairman.

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