Murphy calls Verniero reform proposals ‘game changers’

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

At times the noise drowned out Gov. Phil Murphy, who was trying to sing the praises of his administration’s efforts in getting the long-delayed bridge in North Bergen reopened.

It was an apt metaphor for a governor intent on showing progress on policy while the press clamors for answers on process. In this case, the continued fallout from the Brennan hearings, and now a report from former Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero that calls for changes on how the state handles such cases in the future.

“The Verniero report answered a lot of questions,” said Murphy, “and laid out many valuable recommendations. I also understand that not all of the answers are satisfying, and I share in the frustration of those who are looking for easy answers. One thing we can be clear about is that the buck stops with me. I’ve taken responsibility for what happened, more importantly I’m taking responsibility for fixing it.”

By now, the story is well known. Katie Brennan, chief of staff at the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, alleges that Al Alvarez, the former chief of staff at the Schools Development Authority, raped her after a Murphy campaign event. Alvarez was hired despite the allegations, although to date, no one seems to know by whom. Murphy still can’t answer that question, but he said the Verniero report made important recommendations.

“These are game changers,” he said. “These would have materially changed the reality for Katie if we we’re to live through this awful circumstance again. Extending EEO policies and parameters into a transition, that would have made a difference. Taking into account, as you’ve heard me say before, the fact that folks weren’t government employees, or that this alleged incident didn’t happen on government ground, that’s a game changer. That’s now going to be able to be taken into consideration.”

It was a one-two punch. Murphy announcing new policies on sexual misconduct followed by the release of the Verniero report. If they were intended as a pre-emptive strike against anything that may come out of the Select Oversight Committee hearings, most members were unimpressed.

A statement from co-chair Assermblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin says “… [T]he lengthy and time-consuming report fails to answer the hard questions or assign blame. … The findings make it abundantly evident that we must provide substantive policy recommendations regarding vetting and hiring practices of any future Governor-elect’s transition office.”

“I don’t think we’ve said no to anything, to the best of my knowledge,” he answered. “We’ll continue to cooperate, as we have, as long as it’s not political, that it is survivor-centric, and that it is a whole of government approach, and I’ll leave it there.”

The governor took three questions on the bridge opening Thursday. On the Brennan case, 18, according to a staffer, not that anyone’s keeping count.