NJ Politics Digest: When Scandal Strikes, Is Phil Murphy the New Chris Christie?

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Last year, Phil Murphy’s campaign for governor benefited from a simple truth—he was not Chris Christie, the Republican governor whose approval rating had sunk to historic lows.

But as the Democrat faces yet another scandal involving high-paid and politically connected staff—this time hiring a Democratic operative accused of rape for a $140,000-per-year state post—he’s channeling lessons learned from his Republican predecessor, according to a column by The Record’s Charles Stile.

Murphy is under fire after reports surfaced that Al Alvarez was given a job as chief of staff at the New Jersey Schools Development Authority even after campaign volunteer Katie Brennan alleged he raped her in April 2017.
Murphy’s strategy in the face of the scandal includes echoing Christie’s claim he couldn’t be expected to keep tabs on all hires in the state’s massive workforce, Stiles points out. This even though Brennan reached out to the governor and his wife with no success on June 1. That was four months before Alvarez resigned his post.

And just as Christie hired a law firm to conduct a much-discredited investigation of the Bridgegate lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that were traced back by federal prosecutors to his administration and doomed his presidential ambitions, Murphy has also said he’ll commission an independent investigation into how Alvarez was hired for a top state post despite Brennan informing the Murphy transition team, and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, of what allegedly happened. The prosecutors office declined to press criminal charges.

Now that the scandal has become public, the state Attorney Generals Office has said the investigation will be reopened and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office will no longer be involved. County Prosecutor Esther Suarez has said she now realizes that she knows both Alvarez and Brennan.

In his column, Stile noted the governor’s “see-no-evil, hear-no-evil posture,” on Brennan’s allegations.

Murphy claims that after Brennan wrote him, he didn’t meet with his former volunteer on the advice of advisers, Stile writes. Now that the scandal has hit the papers, Murphy says he’s “crushed” that he didn’t respond differently.

It’s widely thought that Murphy has been polishing his progressive credentials with an eye toward an office higher than the governorship. But, as Stile points out, the Alvarez scandal and his response to Brennan’s requests for aid “threatens to peel away the very progressive image that he has worked so assiduously and spent millions to develop.”

Quote of the Day: “She should be questioned. [Brennan] reported immediately and the fact that the prosecutor’s office didn’t do anything and then deflect and say there’s a conflict of interest—it’s dubious at best.” — Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, on Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez and her office’s decision not to pursue criminal charges against politically connected alleged rapist Al Alverez.

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NJ Politics Digest: When Scandal Strikes, Is Phil Murphy the New Chris Christie?