At the Board of Public Utilities, Gov.-elect Phil Murphy needs to decide if he wants to elevate one of the two Democratic Commissioners to the presidency, or pick his own candidate. He is expected to replace Richard Mroz, a former Chief Counsel to Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, as BPU President.
So far, Murphy has mostly pulled from outside the usual ranks of the Democratic government-in-exile to form his administration.
The two current Democratic commissioners are former Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, and Joseph Fiordaliso, a former Livingston Mayor who was Deputy Chief of Staff under Gov. Richard Codey.
Fiordaliso, 72, worked for Essex County Executive Thomas D’Alessio and then in Codey’s district office. His son was reportedly a finalist to be Murphy’s Commissioner of Transportation. No doubt Codey, who has staged a massive influence comeback as an early Murphy backer, will push for his friend.
Fiordaliso, who was my successor in Livingston when I didn’t seek re-election in 1988, is generally well-liked by both parties. His obstacle is the relationship between Sweeney and Codey, though people I’ve spoken with believe Sweeney won’t fight every fight and that this is one he may not worry about.
The 67-year-old Chivukula became the first Indian-American to serve in the New Jersey legislature when he won a seat in 2001. He’s a former Mayor of Franklin Township and has run for Congress twice. In 2012, he won 40% of the vote when he challenged Rep. Leonard Lance, and finished third in a Democratic primary for Rush Holt’s open seat in 2014.
Murphy has the chance to fill one or two BPU seats – both Republican – somewhat quickly. Traditionally – but not statutorily — the BPU has some partisan balance: three seats go to the party that controls the governorship and two seats to the party out of power.
One seat is open now: Mary-Anna Holden, a Christie ally who served as Mayor of Madison. Her term expired last March, and she is on holdover status. Another seat is up in March: Diane Solomon, the wife of New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Lee Solomon. Murphy can replace one of the two with a Democrat. He can also replace both, if he wants to name his own Republican and keep the unwritten rule of a bi-partisan balance.