Assemblyman Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) said he feels "a little inadequate" next to his fellow Westfield resident, Richard Bagger, who was named today to serve as Chief of Staff to Gov.-elect Christopher Christie.
"He has all the skills like your mom and dad teach you, but I didn't get them all," said Bramnick.
It was Bagger's retirement from the state Senate to take a promotion at Pfizer that set up the chain of events that put Bramnick in his assembly seat. Then-Assemblyman Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) was selected to fill the rest of Bagger's unexpired term, leading to Bramnick being tapped to fill Kean's assembly seat.
Bramnick, who lunched with Bagger last month and asked his advice on becoming conference leader – a position Bagger once held — argued that Bagger's experience as Assembly Appropriations chairman makes him a perfect fit to help tackle the state budget crisis.
"He gets it," said Bramnick. "If you're going to change a process, you really have to understand it."
Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany) called Bagger "a man of high character, who possesses superior intellect and integrity."
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Bob Franks, who in 1991 was Bagger's running mate for Assembly, echoed those sentiments, saying Bagger is "extraordinarily cerebral, analytical, and had a capacity to get along with widest range of people in circumstances where few could claim many friends."
That type of praise for Bagger, who like Bramnick was a moderate Republican, can also be heard from Democrats and more conservative Republicans.
"He's a very bright man — very even tempered, thoughtful." said state Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge), who served with Bagger in the Senate for a little over a year.
State Sen. Gerald Cardinale, who worked with Bagger on a school regionalization bill, said that he was relieved to see a chief of staff with a mix of private and public sector experience.
"I think it's a good start, and it's making a statement that something different is going to be done – we're not going to have people who have just been kind of hanging around government," he said. "Too often we've had a lot of retreads coming through."
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) – known for his bluntness – wrote in an e-mail to PolitickerNJ.com that Bagger "would be great. Big cut in pay though."
Although near universal praise for a top staffer pick is fairly typical, Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said that chiefs of staffs are usually "the guys who do the dirty work for the boss."
Murray noted that Bagger does not have that kind of reputation.
"I think does send a signal that Bagger's not going to be the hatchet man," he said.