Jim Johnson, special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy for the Atlantic City transition, has accepted a role as the corporation counsel of New York City.
In a statement Thursday morning, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Johnson will start the new position Monday. Johnson, 58, will head the New York City Law Department, overseeing a staff of nearly 1,000 lawyers and nearly 700 support professionals who represent city government in legal matters.
“New York City’s gain is New Jersey’s loss,” Murphy said in a statement. “Jim Johnson ably served our administration as special counsel in Atlantic City, working to put the city back on a path to solvency and long-term growth.”
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Johnson was appointed by Murphy in February 2018 to provide “recommendations for the process of returning the city to local control,” and was paid $1 annually for his services, an assignment that was originally intended to last 45 days and wound up spanning almost two years.
Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. said Johnson’s commitment to the city, in addition to his “expertise and knowledge,” will be sorely missed.
“It really shows the character and credibility of a man to do it all for $1 per year,” Small said. “The amount of miles that he put in, the amount of sweat equity, and the time that he spent meeting with stakeholders, speaks to who Jim Johnson is. I’m happy to have him as someone who has been a mentor figure and has given me sound advice as I transition to my new position.”
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Johnson said there have been discussions with state and local officials to find ways for him to remain involved in Atlantic City in some capacity, but he recognized the bulk of his input was complete.
“I’m incredibly grateful for having been welcomed to the city and given a chance to participate in efforts at renewal and, hopefully, make a contribution,” he said Thursday. “If you’re doing an effort like this — particularly for me because of some of the people I met — it becomes as much an effort of the heart as of the head. You always want to stay until the very, very end. But, with change, the very, very end takes often a long time. The best you can do is run the baton as far as you can, as hard as you can, as fast as you can, until the time comes to pass the baton on and let someone else carry it forward. I think that there are people in Atlantic City that are prepared to do that.”
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Johnson co-authored the state’s transition report — released in September 2018 — that outlines the Murphy administration’s goals and objectives for returning Atlantic City to self-governance.
Among the recommendations in the Johnson report that were enacted were the formation of the Atlantic City Executive Council, a collective of public and private city stakeholders that meets monthly to implement quality-of-life, economic development and community initiatives. The Executive Council is chaired by Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who also serves as commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs, the agency with direct oversight of Atlantic City since the 2016 takeover.
“Over the past two years, I have had the pleasure of working alongside Jim as he moved Atlantic City in a new direction as our special counsel,” Oliver said in a statement on social media.
Johnson worked closely with local officials during his tenure in Atlantic City, including those at the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
“Jim Johnson poured his mind and heart into Atlantic City over the past two years,” said Matt Doherty, executive director of the CRDA. “Jim’s work will have a long-lasting and positive impact on the lives of the residents of Atlantic City for years to come.”
A Harvard Law School graduate, Johnson was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. He later served in the U.S. Department of Treasury under former President Bill Clinton. In 1998, Johnson was named undersecretary of the Treasury for enforcement, where he oversaw nearly one-third of federal law enforcement. Johnson is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, where he studies national best practices on criminal justice reform.
Johnson unsuccessfully ran against Murphy in the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary, coming in second. During his run for governor, Johnson hired de Blasio’s former campaign manager as part of his leadership team.