TRENTON – Gov. Chris Christie announced today a long-rumored cabinet shakeup where Attorney General Paula Dow will be moving on and Chief Counsel Jeff Chiesa will replace her.
Dow is being appointed to a post as deputy general counsel at the Port Authority as of Jan. 1, Christie said, to sure up the administration there that has come under fire for mismanagement and an unpopular toll hike.
Dow will also be nominated by Christie as a Superior Court judge in Essex County, which the governor said would momentarily alleviate the backlog of work that has forced rollbacks in judicial services there. Christie is holding up 11 judicial appointments in Essex over a block by state Sen. Ron Rice, (D-29), of Newark, of Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.
“Here’s someone who will clearly sail through confirmation,” he said. “This is my little peace offering to Essex County.”
Christie said Dow will provide “much-needed on-the-ground, day-to-day oversight” at the Port Authority, and has already begun working with Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, another Christie appointment.
She will help implement a reorganization plan, with a particular eye toward the legal team at the authority, as an ongoing audit of the agency is conducted.
“She has tasks to do at the Port Authority that she is uniquely qualified for,” he said. “This will dovetail nicely…with the audit process that is going on over there.”
As far as the timing of the move from the Port Authority to the bench, Christie said it’s flexible. “It depends on how much she’s gotten done at the Port,” he said. “If there has to be some gap, we’ll see…She can get nominated and confirmed and not yet take the oath of office.”
Asked where he stands in the ongoing stalemate on Essex appointments, Christie said, “We stand nowhere.” Rice told PolitickerNJ today the same thing.
“He turns this into street talk,” Christie said of the hard-line senator. “The governor is entitled to his Cabinet, as long as they’re qualified.”
Christie said the adminstraiton will release later today the full list of appointments being blocked in Essex, and who is blocking each nominee.
This isn’t the end of his half-term Cabinet re-organization, Christie said. He’ll need to replace Chiesa as chief counsel, which insiders have pegged deputy Kevin O’Dowd for.
“We’ve got some other changes,” he said, including “one or two more Cabinet situations” that need to be addressed. Another rumored exit is that of Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Tom Considine.
Chiesa has worked with Christie for roughly 20 years, dating back to when Christie interviewed him as a law clerk at Christie’s former firm, Dughi and Hewit.
Chiesa served as executive director of Christie’s Transition Team, was previously a partner at Wolff & Samson, and spent nine years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Christie mentioned a few of Chiesa’s most prominent cases in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, like convictions against Middlesex Democratic boss John Lynch and Bergen County state Sen. Joseph Coniglio. “Other than a few short periods of time,” Christie said, “He has literally been in the office beside me.”
Christie thanked Dow for her work on steroid use in law enforcement, battling corruption and corporate crime, and her aggressive position on civil litigation. He said he’ll submit her name to the Senate for confirmation on Thursday.
She called her run a “dream-of-a-lifetime opportunity,” and thanked Christie.