Lawmakers hammered away at Gov. Phil Murphy’s Chief of Staff Pete Cammarano for hours, peppering him with questions about the hiring of Al Alvarez, the senior staffer accused of raping another high level official in the administration. In the fourth marathon hearing, legislators honed in on timelines. Alvarez was first told to resign by Cammarano on March 26, 2018, then again by another member of Murphy’s inner circle in June, yet he stayed on as the chief of staff for the School Development Authority until Oct. 3.
“It’s very hard to believe with the seriousness, as you would emphasize that it was incredibly serious, and you tell this individual they need to part company with the state and he’s still there almost three months later and you do nothing,” said Sen. Fred Madden.
“There are times I wonder if I should have informed the governor. There are times I wonder if I should have pushed back harder. There are times if I wonder if I should have just fired Mr. Alvarez and run the risk of being sued for firing someone for an accusation,” Cammarano said. “There’s a lot I think I could have done. I think there were barrier though. The confidentiality barrier frustrated me.”
But unemployment papers filed by Alvarez last month allege that Murphy officials pledged to help him find another job before letting him go.
Senate Majority Leader, and panel co-chair, Loretta Weinberg got right to the point.
“Did you offer to help him find a job?” asked Weinberg.
“I did not,” replied Cammarano.
“Did he ask you to?” asked Weinberg.
“He did not,” Cammarano said.
“OK. So there was no offer, from you at least,” Weinberg said.
“There was not,” Cammarano replied.
Indicating that perhaps other officials had offered help. Cammarano insists Murphy’s Chief Counsel Matt Platkin advised him not to speak to the governor or any other senior officials about the situation due to confidentiality clauses.
“Did it trouble you that they were telling you not to tell your boss, who is the top person in state of New Jersey, he’s the leader of the state of New Jersey at this point, about a serious allegation about someone in his administration?” asked Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz.
“As I’ve testified before, there were times where I did wonder about it but ultimately I follow the advice of legal counsel,” Cammarano replied.
“Why wasn’t he just taken out of employment, we’re going to put you on paid leave until we start figuring this out, then we can cut the cord when we need to. On your end you were thinking no. Why didn’t he go through that process?” asked Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce.
“It’s not a thought that ever entered my mind,” Cammarano said.
Alvarez, through his attorney, denies the allegations. This week Alvarez shared his side of the story, claiming he was in a consensual affair with a married woman who then claimed rape. Ultimately, lawmakers were left with little new information Thursday, adding it makes it tough to reform hiring practices with fingers pointed in every direction.
“Given everything that has gone on to date — all the testimony, and public statements, newspaper stories — who do you hold accountable for getting us here today?” asked Sen. Kristin Corrado.
“I’ll take some. Anyone involved, including you folks sitting here who are looking at this issue, I think we all have an obligation and responsibility to address it,” Cammarano said.
And in an odd twist of events after Cammarano asked for a 5 minute break, he didn’t come back to continue his testimony.
Late Thursday the committee heard from Heather Taylor, the state’s chief ethics officer. But it was Platkin’s name that was mentioned more than three dozen times by our count during Thursday’s hearing. He’s a central figure lawmakers want to talk to. His testimony has been rescheduled several times, but NJTV News is told he’s on tap for the next hearing on Jan. 25.