Gov. Phil Murphy spent two months defending Lizette Delgado-Polanco’s hiring of friends and family at the embattled New Jersey Schools Development Authority before finally axing her this week from her state and party posts.
The problem for Murphy is that he let the bleeding continue for eight weeks only. Rather than tell Delgado-Polanco to leave, the governor doubled down in his support of the embattled administration official. Had he fired her in February, after The (Bergen) Record’s Dustin Raccioppi first blew the story up, he might have avoided Delgado-Polanco becoming a liability to the administration.
It wasn’t as if Murphy didn’t want Delgado-Polanco gone earlier – he just couldn’t pull the trigger. Sources with knowledge of how the governor’s office dealt with the issue confirmed that Delgado-Polanco refused to leave until she heard it directly from Murphy — although other sources dispute that, saying that chief of staff George Helmy was the one who delivered the message. There were other ways of putting pressure on her, but nobody went down that path.
Even John Currie, in a tough fight to win re-election as Democratic State Chairman late this year, was forced to publicly embrace Delgado-Polanco as his running mate.
There’s a good chance rank-and-file voters still don’t know about Delgado-Polanco – a February Monmouth University poll showed that 59% of New Jersey voters were unaware of the Al Alvarez scandal that had dominated state political news for months – but that didn’t stop Murphy from taking a considerable hit among insiders and within the statehouse media bubble.
A bigger problem for Murphy was that allies of Delgado-Polanco – including labor unions and constituency groups — put tremendous pressure on the governor and his team to protect her. That means they put Delgado-Polanco’s personal interests ahead of Murphy’s.
For many Delgado-Polanco allies, especially on the labor side, Murphy is arguably the best governor they’ve ever had. Still, instead of leaning on Delgado-Polanco to resign for the greater good of their agenda and the governor’s political future, they did the opposite by pressuring Murphy to defend her.
Among the things Murphy didn’t get: those same Delgado-Polanco allies who pressured him need the governor more than he needs them.