Three nominees to the Port Authority Board of Commissioners – George Helmy, Gov. Phil Murphy’s chief of staff; Joe Kelley, Murphy’s deputy chief of staff for economic growth; and Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage – were confirmed by the State Senate today on a unanimous vote.
The nominations to the bi-state agency, which governs a complex network of public transit systems, airports, bridges, tunnels, and buildings in New Jersey and New York, were previously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee just this morning. It’s been less than a month since the nominations were first made, an efficient process for a legislature that can sometimes take years to approve nominations.
The confirmation of Helmy and Kelley gives Murphy an increased footprint on the Port Authority, one which is set to last well beyond his own tenure as governor. Kelley’s term will expire in July 2027 and Helmy’s in July 2028, meaning that Murphy will have a top aide on the powerful board for two and a half years after he leaves office.
Bollwage, meanwhile, had the vociferous backing of Senate President Nick Scutari (D-Linden), a fellow Union County Democrat.
During their Judiciary Committee hearings this morning, all three nominees expressed support for current Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole, who is expected to retain his top post.
“Chairman O’Toole and I have a very good personal and professional relationship,” Helmy said. “We [in the governor’s office] have supported his vision and leadership at the Port Authority, and he has also supported the governor’s priorities as it relates to the Capital Plan. I have every intention of continuing to support his leadership.”
The trio of new commissioners will fill two seats that are vacant following the retirements of labor leader Raymond Pocino and now-U.S. Rep. Rob Menendez (D-Jersey City), as well as a third seat held by Cliffside Park Councilwoman Dana Martinotti, who is likely to move to a different role in the Murphy administration.
Also confirmed by the Senate today were five new judges of the Superior Court: John Ducey, Gavin Handwerker, Chanel Hudson, Susanne Lavelle, and Nadia Kahf Alqudah. The first four were all cleared by the Judiciary Committee last week, while Alqudah, whose nomination had been sitting in legislative purgatory for more than a year, came before the committee this morning.
That will put another small dent in the mountain of vacancies in New Jersey’s judicial system, which has around 65 judicial positions unfilled following today’s confirmations. The crisis has gotten bad enough that Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner shut down civil and matrimonial trials in six counties earlier this month, but there still aren’t nearly enough nominees moving through the Senate to close the gap.