Murphy Plans Purge of Christie’s New Jersey Transit Allies

Updated on
  • Governor-elect said to seek senior staff resignation letters
  • Campaign veterans and aides were shifted to troubled agency

Phil Murphy

Photographer: Mel Evans/AP Photo

Some of Governor Chris Christie’s allies, hired as New Jersey Transit senior staff while safety jobs went unfilled and reliability slipped, have been asked to resign by Democrat Phil Murphy’s incoming administration, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg.

Among them are Michael Drewniak, Christie’s former spokesman, who moved to the agency amid the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal, and Jacqueline Halldow, a onetime Christie communications aide who lawmakers have said was the administration’s eyes and ears at the agency. At least nine employees will be asked to leave, according to a person familiar with Murphy’s transition plan who asked not to be identified.

Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan said he “cannot comment on specific names.”

“Our office has sent a letter to various state agencies to discuss the transition to Governor-elect Murphy’s administration, which included employment matters,” Bryan said in an email. “This is common practice for incoming administrations, and the effort is being made to be as accommodating as possible to current staff.”

NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder declined to comment. Christie spokesman Brian Murray didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. None of the employees on the list responded to emails to their NJ Transit accounts asking for comment on the request.

Though Bloomberg obtained the letter, it wasn’t provided an attached list of names that was marked confidential. The names were disclosed by a person who had seen the list but wasn’t authorized to discuss agency business.

Murphy on Jan. 16 will succeed Christie, a two-term Republican who slashed state aid to NJ Transit and twice raised fares. Its once-lauded railroad, the nation’s second-busiest commuter train operation, has logged the nation’s most accidents and highest safety fines among its peers, federal data show. Murphy, at a news conference at NJ Transit’s Secaucus Junction in December, called the agency “a national disgrace.”

Michael Drewniak

Photographer: Erik Weber/Getty Images North America

About a dozen veterans of Christie’s campaign or administration were hired at NJ Transit while a safety office, announced with fanfare, lacked more than two dozen staffers, according to testimony before a joint panel of lawmakers investigating agency operations. The panel pressed for details of the hires, even issuing subpoenas, and as of late last month the agency had yet to comply in full.

The staffers must submit letters “containing an offer to resign” as of Jan. 16, according to a memo dated Jan. 9 to NJ Transit Executive Director Steven Santoro from Jose Lozano, Murphy’s transition chief.

“Personnel who submitted offers of resignation which are not accepted prior to noon on Jan. 16, 2018, may continue in their current role,” the letter stated. Those who resign may be considered for other administration jobs, it said.

Santoro, who has led NJ Transit for 15 months, has already offered his resignation.

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