Divide between Sweeney and Murphy widens

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

The fault line in state politics continues to be the Murphy-Sweeney divide. It got a little wider Thursday after Senate President Steve Sweeney appeared to pull two cabinet nominations from Thursday’s Senate board list.

Lamont Repollet is Murphy’s pick to be education commissioner. Zakiya Smith Ellis is his choice for Secretary of Higher Education.

Sweeney said Wednesday he didn’t like some of the answers they gave on issues. That’s a real slap at Murphy, since both nominees had been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Thursday, at an event in Montclair on neighborhood investment, Murphy provided his reaction. Had it been Chris Christie, there might have gotten fighting words, but that’s not Murphy.

“I would just say this, these are two extraordinary individuals. I didn’t say it because I didn’t hear about it before Dan’s colleague heard about it and he put something out to that effect. There’s no reason not to confirm these folks. … Folks need to look up Lamont Repollet and Zakia Smith Ellis because we have two African-American Ph.D.s in our nominated Cabinet. It is the most diverse Cabinet ever nominated in our state, and it’s the most diverse Cabinet in the country. I’m incredibly proud of everybody, beginning with my partner to the left, and I’m certainly proud of the two of them and I just hope that they get confirmed as soon as possible. The good news is they’ve been in there working day in and day out and continue to do so today. I think it says nothing about the relationship, but these two folks need to be confirmed and I’m confident they will be because they deserve it,” he said.

Sweeney was not available for comment on Thursday.

Repollet was superintendent of schools in Asbury Park. Smith Ellis was an education policy adviser in the Obama White House.

Sweeney told NJ Advance Media that Repollet needs to show more urgency on modernizing the school funding formula, and he complained that Smith Ellis gave him some nonanswers to a written list of questions.