Phil Murphy has called New Jersey Transit a “national disgrace” and has pledged to “knock it down” and build it as one of the earliest priorities of his fledgling administration. To do that, Murphy needs to first take control of the agency – literally.
That won’t be too difficult.
The New Jersey Transit Board of Directors has seven voting members, and Murphy starts out with three votes out of the box. The Governor’s Office has a representative – traditionally the Director of the Authorities Unit. So does the State Treasurer. Murphy’s pick for Commissioner of Transportation, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, will also get a vote in her role as NJ Transit Chair – after the Senate confirms her.
His fourth vote will likely come from James Finkle, a trucking industry executive who was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011. Finkle was a Christie donor in 2009 and 2013, but he gave $4,300 to Phil Murphy in 2017. That’s a sign that Finkle intends to back Murphy’s initiatives.
The New Jersey Transit Board has two vacancies: Bruce Meisel, a big Republican donor from Bergen County, was named to the board by Christie in 2011 and resigned in 2016; and Myron Shevell, another trucking company owner (and the father-in-law of Sir Paul McCartney) had been on the board since 1995. He contributed heavily to both sides, including Christie (who reappointed him in 2011) and Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman John Wisniewski. Shevell left the board in 2016 and Christie didn’t fill that slot either.
Phone It In Flora
Murphy can run the table and gain complete control of the NJ Transit Board, if he decides to seek the resignation of Flora Castillo, who holds the one board seat set aside for a commuter.
One legitimate knock on Castillo is her 2017 attendance record: she attended just three meetings in person, and literally phoned it in for the other eight — she attended board meetings by telephone.
Telephone attendance at NJ Transit board meetings is a regular occurrence; there have been numerous meetings in recent years where more board members attend via telephone than in person. That’s a practice Murphy is free to address.
In 2015, a NJ Transit spokesperson told New Jersey Advance Media’s Larry Higgs that Castillo “is a regular rider of the 319 bus” – that’s the express bus that runs between Atlantic City and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. I’m not completely certain how that works, since Castillo’s day job is as the Vice President of Corporate Marketing at AmeriHealth Mercy Family of Companies in Philadelphia. Before that, she worked for Keystone Mercy Health Plan, also in Philadelphia. That’s up to Murphy to figure out.
A board member since the Whitman Administration – Christie reappointed her in 2012 — Castillo is a GOP donor from Ventnor who, after more than twenty years on the board, can be held accountable for the agencies failures.
Murphy still hasn’t announced his pick for Executive Director, although it is widely presumed that he won’t keep Steven Santoro in that post.