“I am incredibly proud of the cooperation that we’ve had with the legislative process. I mentioned 13 witnesses, seven full days, 40 hours. I did not mention the amount of documents. I don’t think we’ve said no to anything,” said Gov. Phil Murphy on Feb. 7.
The governor’s outward expressions of support for the select committee’s work have been acknowledged by committee members and noticed by observers not on the committee. But it belies a sentiment among his closest allies that the committee is a tool of the Senate president aimed at doing political damage to the governor.
“We have not been, I mean I don’t know what being political means,” said committee co-chair Loretta Weinberg. “We’ve given everybody a chance to answer questions and say whatever it is they want to say, so I’m not sure. I’ve not heard that, and if anybody from the Governor’s Office believes that, it would be most appropriate if they would call me and my co-chair, Eliana Pintor Marin, and we could have a discussion about what they’re objecting to.”
Critics of the committee’s work say that the committee is too hung up on the question of who hired Al Alvarez, the former campaign staffer whose alleged sexual assault of Katie Brennan — despite no charges being filed against him — has been the focus of the hearings. Committee member Holly Schepisi scoffs at that.
“That is one of the most absurd things I’ve heard yet,” she said. “Had somebody been forthcoming when all of this first broke and just said ‘Yes, I hired this person. These were the circumstances. It’s a political hire. It happens in every campaign’ and hadn’t turned it into this whole cloak and dagger type of a thing, it would have been a nonissue. If anybody made this an issue, it was the Governor’s Office for their lack of truth and veracity and their lack of forthcomingness in this entire debacle.”
The critics, who chose not to talk to us on camera, question where the committee’s outrage is that an all-male clique of Democrats led by Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo gathered in the Caribbean on Super Bowl weekend that mocked Murphy as “Phony Phil Murphy.” The critics pointed mostly at co-chair, Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin, who also works as the assistant county administrator. She had no comment, but Weinberg waved it all off.
“First of all, I didn’t even know about it until the press called me, so I don’t know what and when I was supposed to be outraged. But I would say the people from the Governor’s Office don’t need to lecture me. I know when to be outraged — when it affects women and their families. Believe me, I know,” said Weinberg.
Intentional or not, the committee’s hearings have not cast a positive light on the governor’s campaign or transition, but members say that’s not their fault. Maybe, they say, the ultimate result will be good for everyone.
The proof of any special committee is in its final report, and as this committee starts to wind down its work, the chairs promise a comprehensive report that will concentrate on policy fixes and not politics.