Several nominations made by Gov. Phil Murphy may have some trouble getting through the New Jersey State Senate.
Murphy has nominated Passaic Mayor Hector Lora, Paterson City Council President Ruby Cotton, and East Rutherford Mayor James Casella to the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. The governor is filling three vacancies: the seats Scott Heck and David Catuogno, who resigned last month after the Murphy administration threatened to remove them for not living within the PVSC district. The third vacancy was the seat of Kenneth Lucianin, who resigned in March.
Murphy faces some challenges to confirming Lora and Cotton. State law requires commissioners from the same county to be of different parties. Cotton is a Democrat and Lora was twice elected to the Passaic County Board of Freeholders as a Democrat before changing his party registration to unaffiliated last December.
That might be a loophole for Murphy as he looks to appoint two Democrats for the price of one. But that might not fly with Republican State Sen. Kristin Corrado, who has senatorial courtesy over all gubernatorial appointments out of Passaic County. Sources close to Corrado say that the Senator has serious concerns about Murphy’s plan to stack the PVSC and has no plans to sign off on Lora and Cotton. If Corrado holds back her approval on both nominees, it could force Murphy to pull one back.
In 2010, when Gov. Chris Christie and Senate President Steve Sweeney collided over appointments to the New Jersey Supreme Court, Sweeney declined to allow Christie to stack the court with Republicans. Christie argued that Sweeney’s math was wrong because Justice Jaynee LaVecchia was registered as an independent. But Sweeney remained firm in his belief that LaVecchia, a member of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman’s cabinet, was to be counted as a Republican despite her actual voter affiliation.
Casella is a Republican and would balance the other Bergen commissioner, former Democratic freeholder Elizabeth Calabrese. Casella is technically a Sarlocrat, which means he’s a Republican who has pledged his allegiance is to State Sen. Paul Sarlo. All four Bergen Senators, including Republican Gerald Cardinale, will need to sign off on Casella, but that is not expected to be a problem.
The PVSC has been a source of stress for Murphy, who got involved in a contested election for vice chairman and lost. Sarlo had asked the Murphy administration to help Calabrese take Lucianin’s vice chairmanship. Newark Councilman Luis Quintana also wanted the post and Murphy’ authorities unit director, Mary Maples, started calling commissioners on behalf of Calabrese. One of her calls was to Newark Councilwoman Mildred Crump – Maples didn’t realize that Crump and Quintana were friends and allies.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will not consider the nomination of Amy Rosen as a Commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey until Murphy and Sweeney work out details regarding future Port Authority appointments, according to a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Rosen was appointed to replace the recently-resigned Caren Turner. Two other Port Authority seats are coming up on July 1: Republican Richard Bagger, a former State Senator and Chief of Staff to Christie; and longtime commissioner David Steiner, a major Democratic fundraiser. Sources say that Bagger will not be reappointed, but that Steiner, who is 88, has not yet decided whether he wants another six-year term. (Full disclosure: during my four years at the Port Authority, I viewed Steiner as one of the strongest and most dedicated of the commissioners.)
Complicating matters is that State Sen. Brian Stack believes a commitment was made to him by both Murphy and Sweeney that the next open seat will go to Hudson County – and that Stack will make the recommendation of who gets the appointment. If you know anything about Stack, it’s that he remembers every promise ever made to him. The worst thing Murphy can do is leave Stack with the impression that he didn’t keep his word.
The package that Sweeney has in mind, the source says, is that he, Stack and Murphy will each pick one. Sweeney may give his pick to Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. Rosen is Murphy’s pick. There’s no word who Stack’s choice will be.
Morris County Republicans have not lost a countywide election in 45 years, and no incumbent countywide official has ever lost a general election. Lately it seems as though embattled County Clerk Ann Grossi is aiming to break that streak. For the second time in as many months, Grossi is headed to court amidst allegations that she doesn’t understand state election law. The first time was in April, when a Republican County Committee candidate challenged her ruling that candidates needed a flat five signatures to get on the ballot. Grossi insisted she was right, even though the other twenty county clerks followed guidelines set forth in the statutes. When she was called out on it, she doubled down and hired a lawyer. A Court Judge ruled that Grossi’s instructions to municipal clerks were illegal and ordered her to change the policy going forward. The latest lawsuit comes from a Democratic county committee candidate from Dover who says Grossi erred in not having bilingual ballots that mirror the bilingual sample ballots. The lawsuits have already become an issue in Grossi’s re-election campaign, as Democrats look to elect their first Morris County Clerk since before the Civil War.