The defeat of Senate President Steve Sweeney has caused a seismic shift in New Jersey politics, but that won’t affect the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, where Chairman Kevin O’Toole’s relationship with the new guy, Nicholas Scutari, is equally as strong.
O’Toole, a former Republican state senator originally named to the port post by Gov. Chris Christie, has deftly prevented Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy from replacing him over the last four years through close relationships with his former colleagues on the Democratic side.
Among a group of O’Toole’s closest friends in the Senate was Scutari. Scutari was one of the landmines O’Toole has set up to block Murphy from naming a new port chairman. When nominees for commissioner had come before the Senate Judiciary Committee – chaired by Scutari – in their bids for Senate confirmation, would-be commissioners were asked under oath if they planned to retain O’Toole as chairman. They all pledged they would.
Scutari’s replacement as Judiciary chairman, Brian P. Stack (D-Union City), might be O’Toole’s closest friend in the Senate. Scutari and Stack had both publicly stated their support of O’Toole back in 2019.
Murphy had originally nominated Amy Rosen, a former New Jersey Transit board member from Montclair, in 2018. But Sweeney and Scutari had refused to give Rosen a confirmation hearing without the approval of a full package of Port Authority nominees that would have ensured the extension of O’Toole’s chairmanship.
Earlier this year, Murphy finally withdrew Rosen’s three-year-old nomination and followed the parameters of the original deal that allowed two senators, Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (also an O’Toole friend) and Sweeney, to influence the filling of two of the three open seats.
Sweeney gave his pick to State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City), who chose Hudson County Economic Development Corporation executive director Michelle Richardson. Richardson is married to O’Toole’s friend, former Superior Court Judge Joseph Charles; the two served together in the State Assembly from 1996 to 2001.
Weinberg’s selection was Cliffside Park Councilwoman Dana Martinotti, a family friend of O’Toole. Murphy’s seat went to Robert Menendez, Jr., the son of the state’ senior U.S. Senator. The top political advisor for the Menendez family is Michael Soliman, who works with O’Toole’s former chief of staff, Al Barlas, at Mercury, an influential public affairs firm.
Murphy has one open Port Authority commissioner seat left to fill: a replacement for Raymond Pocino, who retired in September.
Scutari has been eyeing that seat for Union County – the only county with a Port Authority facility that has no representation on the Board of Commissioners. As Senate President, he’ll be well positioned to block anyone not from Union County – and not ready sign a blood oath for O’Toole – to get the post.
Editor’s note: O’Toole in an unpaid columnist for the New Jersey Globe. The O’Toole Chronicles appears every Tuesday.