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Murphy doesn’t have votes to approve EDA pick

By David Wildstein

Gov. Phil Murphy doesn’t necessarily have the votes on the Economic Development Authority (EDA) to approve his choice of a Connecticut official as the new executive director.

In a letter, first reported by InsiderNJ’s Max Pizzaro, labor leader Bill Mullen says that Tim Sullivan, Murphy’s pick to run the EDA, established a record of being “anti-building trades” and opposing prevailing wage expansion while serving as Gov. Dan Malloy’s deputy commissioner of Economic and Community Development.

Mullen, an enormously powerful player in New Jersey politics, runs the state Building & Construction Trades Council.  He thinks Sullivan conspired with the Connecticut Department of Labor to find loopholes around federal labor laws that require local prevailing wages on public works projects.  That’s a deal-breaker for unions.

Some insiders think Murphy’s best move would be to simply issue a statement saying he supports prevailing wage laws and that all his appointees would be required to do the same – but a day after the InsiderNJ story broke, the governor has not done that.

Instead, Murphy is potentially setting up another fight with Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Mullen ally.  To be clear, Mullen has the heft to fight this one on his own.

The EDA post is not Senate confirmable but does require the approval of the authority’s board.  Murphy begins with a slight advantage: he starts with four seats on the board; state law gives the State Treasurer, and the commissioners of Labor, Environmental Protection and Banking and Insurance seats.  That means Murphy needs four more votes from the eight-member board.

Each of the eight will have to weigh their willingness to support the traditional right of the governor to pick his own executive director and political ties to labor unions or other partisan obstacles:

* Fred Dumont is the business manager of Heat & Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers Local 89.  If the building trades group decides to have a fight with Murphy over Sullivan, the governor won’t get Dumont.

* Phil Alagia in the chief of staff to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and a power player in North Jersey politics in his own right.  Alagia will feel conflicted between his instinct to back the new Democratic governor and his own relationships with building trades unions.

* Bill Layton is a lobbyist and the Burlington County Republican Chairman; he is also the former business partner of Murphy chief of staff Peter Cammarano.  Layton watched his majority on the Burlington Board of Freeholders drop from 5-0 to 3-2 last year.  In 2018, Layton must defend two GOP Freeholder seats in 2018, and he might not want the building trades union to play against him in a fight to retain control of county government in what is shaping up to be a Democratic year.

* Massiel Medina Ferrara is the director of planning for Hudson County – he works for Tom DeGise, and it could be argued that DeGise works for State Senators Brian Stack (D-Union City) and Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen).  Stack and Sacco, allies for now, have been longtime supports of prevailing wage policies.

* Tom Scrivo, the EDA chairman, is a former chief counsel to Gov. Chris Christie.  Christie and the building trades unions enjoyed a strong partnership, and Scrivo’s own relationships might tip the scale.

* Lou Goetting is a state government veteran who served as principal deputy chief of staff to Christie. He’s not a political guy and has no real ties to Murphy.

* Laurence Downes is the respected chairman and CEO of New Jersey Resources.  He won’t want to wade into a war between the governor and labor unions but would likely lean to Murph if pushed.

* Charles Sarlo is a lawyer and general counsel to DMR Architects, a politically-active firm which handles numerous public projects that need buy in from Trenton and from the building trades.  His brother is Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge).  Paul Sarlo works for Joseph Sanzari’s construction firm and has close ties to the building trades.

If one of the eight is unavailable to participate in the vote to approve Sullivan, they could be replaced by the EDA board’s alternate members.  Two of the three alternates are union guys: William Albanese, the former president of the New Jersey Mechanical Contractors Association and the treasurer and employer trustee of the Mechanical Contractors Industry Fund Local 274; and Patrick Delle Cava, the business manager of IBEW Local 102.  The third trustee is John Lutz, an attorney who served as chief counsel to U.S. Senator Jeff Chiesa.

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