Five months after his nomination was first set to be considered, Middlesex County Sheriff Joseph Spiccuzo’s was cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee for a seat on the Sports and Exposition Authority.
The hearing was not without some controversy, however. Spicuzzo’s nomination passed on a party-line vote, except for state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Branchburg), who abstained.
During questioning, state Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest) needled Spicuzzo, who also chairs the Middlesex County Democratic Organization, on his association with former state Sen. John Lynch, who was convicted of corruption.
Cardinale attempted to read aloud statement Spicuzzo made to Gannett New Jersey about Spicuzzo meeting and taking advice from Lynch when he was still in federal custody.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak was visibly irritated by the line of questioning, arguing that there was nothing wrong with meeting with an incarcerated person. Juciary Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) argued that Spicuzzo’s relationship with Lynch was irrelevant to the position he is nominated for.
“I think the nominee has stated that he knew him on a professional and political level. I don’t think it has any bearing on his nomination to the sports authority,” said Sarlo.
But Cardinale said that the relationship is relevant “because we have a nominee who has quoted to the press that he takes advice from a convicted criminal who is, in fact, incarcerated at the time he’s giving that advice.”
Spicuzzo, for his part, said that he met with Lynch at a halfway house – not a prison – and said he did not remember much of what they talked about. When asked what advice Lynch gave him, he said “I don’t know if he gave me any advice except that to answer the Judiciary Committee’s questions and they’ll be fair.”
State Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Middetown) said that the nomination went against Governor-Elect Chris Chrisite’s wish for Gov. Corzine to withhold all unessential government business.
“The Governor-Elect has asked that the nomination be pulled, and you’re going for it anyway,” he said. “This in my judgment… is the wrong nomination for the wrong time in this lame duck era, and I hope it’s not a sign of what’s going to continue in the next four months.”
But state Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) argued that Kyrillos did not hold former Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco to the same standards.
“He filled every position from dog house catcher to light house keeper before he turned out the lights. You were the state senator at the time and voted to fill every nomination that Governor DiFrancesco made,” he said.
Spicuzzo’s nomination was delayed because he had the flu on the June day he was set to be considered. Although the committee tried to reconvene to consider him later, he fell ill and could not attend the hearing.