It’s no secret that Pete Cammarano will leave his post as Chief of Staff at some point during Gov. Phil Murphy’s first term. Historically, it’s fairly common for governors to change chiefs at different stages in their term for a multitude of reasons. While Murphy said in July following the approval of the state budget that he expects no shakeups, speculation remains strong that he will next year– either in January, or at the latest in July, after he completes his second budget.
Gov. Tom Kean was among New Jersey’s most popular governors, but his first year in office was not as smooth as he would have liked. As a former Assembly Speaker, he recognized that and sent Chief of Staff Lewis Thurston to the Sports Authority and replaced him with Greg Stevens. Stevens helped Kean chart a course that got him re-elected with 70% of the vote.
Cammarano had no prior relationship with Murphy, a Trenton newcomer when he scored a Democratic gubernatorial nomination that was probably tantamount to election after eight years of a Republican governor. What Cammarano brought to the table was experience: he had spent ten years as a State Senate staffer before becoming Chief of Staff to Gov. Richard Codey in November 2004. After Codey left office in January 2006, he became a lobbyist.
One difference between Cammarano’s two tenures: the first time he had the gig, the governor was also the Senate President. That meant when Gov. Codey sent a nomination to the Senate, Sen. Codey could schedule a vote. And when Gov. Codey wanted a bill passed by the Senate, Sen. Codey controlled the board list. Now Cammarano has to deal with Steve Sweeney and there is no love lost between the two.
Here’s a short list of potential candidates to replace Cammarano as chief of staff. To be clear, this list was created by the New Jersey Globe in order after discussions with multiple insiders to spark some discussion; no names have been floated by the Governor’s office. There is no obvious choice. In alphabetical order:
* Bill Castner: The former chief counsel to Gov. Jon Corzine and former Executive Director of the Assembly Majority Office is serving as a special counsel to Murphy on gun control and is already connected to the governor. He’s smart, experienced and political. His greatest obstacle would be a fractured relationship with Steve Sweeney and George Norcross – that’s something Cammarano already brings to the table.
* Jim Johnson: The former Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Treasury ran a surprisingly strong race for the 2017 Democratic nomination for governor and went at Murphy pretty hard. But Murphy, insiders say, appears to have taking a liking to his former critic, whom he named as his special emissary to Atlantic City. Johnson’s problem may be the same as Murphy’s: a lack of Trenton institutional knowledge and personal relationships with legislators.
* Joe Kyrillos: The former Republican State Senator, who retired in January after 30 years in the Legislature, could be an interesting choice. He counts Murphy and Sweeney as his close friends, his relationships transcend party lines, and he’s a skilled Trenton insider. Picking a Republican could offend Murphy’s base and interfere with the coalitions that could protect the governor from a Democratic primary challenge.
* Jose Lozano: The former hospital executive who chaired Murphy’s transition team was the most often-mentioned candidate for chief of staff – and the most often to be dismissed as a real choice. Insiders suggest that the transition did not go as smoothly as Murphy had hoped, and he lacks political skills and relationships with legislators and county chairs. And he just took on a new job: Michele Brown’s $430,000-a-year post as CEO of Choose New Jersey.
* Kevin McCabe: The Middlesex County Democratic Chairman and former state Labor Commissioner has a formidable block of legislators and an Assembly Speaker. He could easily forge a coalition between Murphy and legislators and understands how to assemble a package of bills and appointments. The problem is that he’s probably more powerful where he is than as chief of staff.
* Patti McGuire: The Princeton Public Affairs Group lobbyist has worked for three statewide officeholders and served as deputy chief of staff to the governor. She’s a seasoned political operative with a good policy background and relationships across the state. She would be a safe pick for Murphy.
* Matt Platkin: Currently the chief counsel to the governor, he is probably the front runner – at least right now. Murphy, insiders say, likes him, trusts him, and depends on him for advice. He is arguably the most powerful person within the governor’s office and could easily look to move up. The downside: Platkin has still not built relationships with legislators that other chief counsels have in recent administrations.
* Eric Schuffler: A former chief of staff to Sen. Bob Torricelli and Jim McGreevey’s top policy guy, Schuffler is great at messaging and knows the political players in the state. One insider suggested that Schuffler could be too close to Cammarano, and that his appointment could look as though he would be his pick, not Murphy’s.
* Michael Soliman: The Mercury Public Affairs partner and Bob Menendez campaign chairman has strong relationships with legislators, party leaders and interest groups up and down the state and gained extensive policy experience as Menendez’s state director and as a congressional district director. Murphy likes and respects him and his ability to get along with everyone. Soliman is a results-oriented guy who has established his own independent identity from his longtime mentor.