Another scandal is brewing in New Jersey after released emails and texts appear to show Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy lobbying for support among state party committee members while possibly pulling strings to land a top job for a staffer.
An email obtained by Politico showed that Murphy had texted a New Jersey Democratic State Committee member to get his support for the re-election of Chairman John Currie right before one of Murphy’s staffers emailed that same committee member to inquire about a potential job opening with New Jersey Transit.
The staffer, 79-year-old Robert Salman, had served as a volunteer on Murphy’s campaign and on the then-governor-elect’s transportation advisory committee during the transition. Previously, he had served under multiple administrations as the inspector general of the state Department of Transportation.
Lobbying for support and a job
In an email to the unnamed committee member — who requested anonymity from Politico — Salman wrote: “I just heard from Mike Delasandro who told me that he had spoken to [Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti] and that she definitely wanted to bring me on board at NJT.
“Apparently, the possibilities are a meaningful consultancy possibly in the auditing area or the newly created position of Chief Ethics Officer at NJT. I said that I would leave it to their good judgment, but noted the similarity between the Ethics Officer position and my past position as IG of DOT,” he continued.
“FYI, I also got a text from Governor Murphy asking me to support Chairman Currie. In light of the developments at NJT and my own personal high regard for Chairman Currie I responded to the Governor by pledging to support Chairman Currie,” Salman added.
In a phone interview with Politico to confirm the contents of the email, Salman noted that “Mike Delasandro” was actually supposed to read “Mike Delamater,” the Murphy administration’s director of intergovernmental affairs.
He also noted that he had received the text from Murphy the night before he sent that email to the committee member.
The New Jersey Democratic Party is currently split into two factions, with one side backing Currie for re-election while the other has lent their support to a challenger, Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones.
The unnamed committee member told Politico that Salman had sent a nearly identical email to several other high-ranking Democratic officials.
For his part, Salman denied that his stated support for Currie had any connection to his job inquiry, and he revealed that he had been in communication with administration officials about a job for nearly a year. He also added that he didn’t characterize the governor’s text messages as lobbying.
As for Gov. Murphy, spokesman Dan Bryan told Politico: “On Thursday, the Governor enacted sweeping NJ TRANSIT reform legislation which, among other accomplishments, enacted a new Chief Ethics Officer position. Bob Salman, a former Inspector General to the Department of Transportation who has been interested in serving in the administration for months, had expressed interest in light of the newly created position. There has been no offer of employment extended to Mr. Salman.”
Ironically, Murphy’s sweeping reforms to New Jersey Transit were ostensibly part of an agenda to reduce supposed “patronage hires” that had occurred under the prior Republican administration of former Gov. Chris Christie.
It remains to be seen if anything further will develop from this situation, but as it stands now, it does seem that the Democratic governor is using his influence to not only keep a top official he likes in office, but also to line up a top government job for a former staffer.