By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
John Degnan has a long and distinguished Democratic pedigree.
But that didn’t keep Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee from grilling him.
Degnan is Gov. Chris Christie’s nominee to be the next chairman of the Port Authority.
Sen. Ray Lesniak, among others, has questioned whether Degnan can be independent of the governor when Christie hired Degnan’s son in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and then approved the son to be executive director of the SCI, the State Commission of Investigation.
“My son, who’s here with me today I’m proud to say, has his own distinguished career and earned both positions on his merits. They had nothing to do with me. It is frankly insulting to me and to him to imply otherwise, as some have done,” Degnan said.
Lesniak and former Speaker Sheila Oliver also criticize Degnan for agreeing to serve on Christie’s judicial advisory panel after an earlier panel resigned over Christie’s failure to re-appoint Justice John Wallace.
They saw it as Degnan providing cover for Christie.
“This is a fabrication, made up by one person, who’s repeated it over and over again and it finds its way into every story about me. I would never dishonor the Supreme Court. I clerked for a Supreme Court justice for two years. I revere the Court,” said Degnan.
As for the scandal plagued Port Authority, Degnan said it’s in desperate need of reform, and was asked why.
“Frankly because it’s lost its public credibility. It needs to have that in order to continue to function,” he said.
His core mission he said will be ethics and transparency, he said.
And he talked about changing the agency’s culture.
“So, changing the culture. You’re gonna have to start with changing the culture of your co-commissioners,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
Democrat Nia Gill, another Degnan critic, asked him about the governor’s decision to kill the ARC Tunnel. Degnan replied, he hadn’t studied the issue enough to comment fairly.
“What you’re asking me is to second guess a decision that was made years ago on basis of facts that I am not familiar enough to make that judgement. I don’t operate that way. If you can’t live with that, vote against me, Senator. I’m here because I want to do public service,” Degnan said. Gill replied, “I’m fulfilling my responsibility as a senator.”
Republicans generally approved of Christie’s nominee.
“I think you’ve acquitted yourself superbly this morning,” said Sen. Joe Kyrillos.
After three hours, the vote was 11 to 2, with only Lesniak and Gill voting no, Lesniak saying a Port Authority chairman must stand up to the governor.
“I do not have confidence this nominee will do that. I hope I’m wrong. I vote no,” Lesniak said.
The full Senate voted on Degnan later and confirmed him.