TRENTON — Governor Christopher Christie today filled two more cabinet slots, naming Dr. Poonam Alaigh as his health commissioner and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Larkins as the executive director of the School Development Authority Board.
Alaigh, an internist specializing in vascular diseases, is the executive medical director at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and a former national medical director at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. At the press conference announcing the pick, Christie said that she has had an “extraordinary career” and was “someone who has worked in just about every aspect of providing health care to people” both in her capacity as a practicing physician and managing a large corporation.
“I know the number one issue is to balance the budget, and to make sure the Governor gets to his goals,” she said. “The number two issue is to remain honest to what our mission is, which is to make sure that the health care is quality-driven and is accessible.”
Christie joked that reporters would be “shocked to know” that Larkins, like many of his cabinet appointments so far, worked under him in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Christie said that he and Education Commissioner-designee Bret Schundler would work “closely together to assess what the true needs are for schools in the State of New Jersey.”
But Christie didn’t stop there. The 30-minute press conference became the type of pugnacious shoot-from-the-hip type of event that the new governor is fast becoming known for among the Statehouse press corps used to former Gov. Jon Corzine’s careful, plodding style.
Christie announced that vetoed minutes from a January 6th School Development Authority meeting that approved an extra $1.26 million for the new Burlington City High School – bringing the project almost $18 million over its original $28.7 million budget. And he held that more vetoes were likely.
“This kind of stuff is no longer going to be tolerated with taxpayer money. We’re not going to approve the change order. We’re not going to pay for it,” said Christie, who went said he would “bring discipline” to the authority “one way or the other.”
“Until Marc Larkins comes to me with some sufficient explanation – if he does, ever – for why it should be paid, if they put it on their minutes for approval next month, I’ll veto it again.”
Christie reiterated that he did not have the time to attend to the Chamber of Commerce’s “Walk to Washington” – downplaying reports that the decision had to do with perceived slights by the Chamber’s leadership – but also took a shot at the long-standing tradition.
“I also don’t think that a lot of these things are nearly as productive as people try to make them out to be. Nobody has a hard time finding the governor of this state… So this idea that I need to do this to get in touch with the business community I think is kind of silly,” he said.
Christie said that the Atlantic City government, hit today with a scathing report from Comptroller Matthew Boxer on waste and fiscal mismanagement, needs to “get its act together” and said that city’s voters would have to figure out that “change is necessary.”
When asked about the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, which was written about frequently in transition reports, Christie said “we’re going to have to change the leadership there.” He noted that the executive director, Bryan Christiansen, makes $313,000 a year, and his chief of staff earns $225,000.
“If I look envious, it’s because I am. That’s significantly more than I’m making to do this job, and as challenging as the PVSC may be, I think this baby may be a little harder,” said Christie (Christiansen actually has a salary of $316,216, according to a December article in The Record).
And when The Record columnist Charles Stile asked Christie whether his controversial pay-to-play executive order applies to unions that have contracts with local level government, Christie refined the point.
“It’s our view that it applies to the New Jersey Education Association,” he said. “Was that just too direct? Charlie’s taking me on the Circle Line to the NJEA. Why do that? Let’s just go directly to it, because that’s what you all want to know.”