A worker in Gov. Phil Murphy’s election campaign tried vainly for 18 months to get her complaint of sexual assault against a fellow campaigner heard in court and by the Murphy administration. Instead, there have been months, maybe a couple of years, of damage control by the administration.
Fate has a way of foiling such efforts, however, and now the Murphy administration’s failure to explain who hired the accused and let him keep his job despite the accusation has led to a wider scandal with high-paying government jobs handed out to friends and relatives of a high-ranking Democrat.
Al Alvarez, accused by Katie Brennan, only quit his job as chief of staff of the state Schools Development Authority after she finally had to tell her story to The Wall Street Journal to be heard. Last week, Alvarez told a special legislative committee that the sex was consensual. She said she told him as he forced himself on her that “this is not consensual,” but officials have decided there will be no criminal trial to clarify these conflicting versions. If Brennan’s voice is heard in court, it will be the civil branch.
Alvarez, incredibly, also told legislators that no one in particular in the administration had hired him. He said both Murphy’s chief of staff and his transition chief interviewed him, knowing of the accusation, but a formal letter giving him the $140,000 a year job (soon bumped up to $170,000 a year) wasn’t from anyone. Perhaps someone was thinking about future deniability.
Murphy’s oft-stated goal of keeping the sex-complaint scandal from spilling into politics seemed somewhat successful, until an enterprising reporter from The Record in Bergen County, Dustin Racioppi, looked further into the hiring practices at the Schools Development Authority.
He found that Murphy’s appointed CEO at the authority fired 26 mostly career professionals who had worked under Democratic and Republican governors, and replaced them with 33 new hires, among them many relatives and people connected to her and other top Democrats.
Lizette Delgado-Polanco continued her position as vice chair of the State Democratic Committee after she became CEO of the state SDA at an annual salary of $225,000.
Fourteen of her new hires received six-figure salaries, as high as $170,000. At least 10 of them either worked with Delgado-Polanco in the past or at companies represented by unions she worked for, or had other close ties to her.
One new hire is the mother of Delgado-Polanco’s grandson. Another, who resigned after a prior sexual harassment claim turned up, is her second cousin. She also tried to hire one of her nephews, but he had to leave after a day on the job when it was discovered that state nepotism rules bar hiring relatives that close.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney has called the hirings “disgusting” and urged the disbanding of the agency, which builds and maintains schools in the state’s poorest areas.
For his part, Gov. Murphy greatly expanded his damage control operation, launching a review of hiring practices at state departments and agencies except for those for which he is directly responsible.
He’s looking back three years, maybe hoping to find examples of other corrupt hiring practices as bargaining chips or at least to show he’s not the only one.
The whole thing’s a stinking mess. New Jersey citizens and voters should be embarrassed by their government and angry that job opportunities and public spending are so rigged against ordinary people.
Sweeney’s solution might only address this one case of shamelessly excessive patronage, but it would also send a message to others that there are limits.