Hiring scandal continues to drag Gov. Murphy down (Analysis)
With multiple scandals and investigations surrounding New Jersey’s Schools Development Authority, Gov. Phil Murphy continues to stand by his hand-picked CEO of the embattled organization.
Murphy’s support for Lizette Delgado-Polanco is vexing to lawmakers, insiders, and political analysts, as demonstrated in this NorthJersey.com report. It’s also picking another political fight with Senate President Steve Sweeney at a time when Murphy needs Sweeney’s support to pass a new state budget by July 1 and advance other keystones of his progressive agenda, such as the legalization of adult use marijuana.
Sweeney and Murphy appeared together in Sweeney’s legislative district this week to promote more funding for pre-school education. While the two are, in Murphy’s words, “in lockstep” on the pre-school issue, the two are clearly divided on the SDA.
At the joint appearance Monday, Sweeney lambasted the SDA in general and Delgado-Polanco specifically, saying he was “absolutely shocked” she still had a job. Sweeney also made it clear she was in for a rough time when she appears before the Senate Budget Committee. At least five times during her Assembly Budget Committee testimony, Delgado-Polanco refused to answer questions about hiring practices at the SDA, including why she fired more than a dozen tenured staffers and replaced them with people who had personal or political ties to her.
It’s been alleged some of the new hires weren't qualified for their jobs, and that Delgado-Polanco misstated her own credentials. Delgado-Polanco has said she was just exercising her authority as CEO, but refused to offer specifics while citing multiple investigations.
For the most part, that got her a pass in the Assembly, but Sweeney strongly hinted that won’t be the case in his chamber. The Senate President further suggested the entire SDA be dismantled, and it’s operations taken over by the existing Economic Development Authority. If not, Sweeney says, he won’t support giving the SDA any more taxpayer money to continue court ordered urban school construction projects.
With urban school funding critical to Murphy shoring up support in key election districts, the decision to stand by Delgado-Polanco is curious and politically dangerous, if not outright reckless. Murphy was asked at Monday’s event about his support, but declined to answer. Delgado-Polanco is a former union leader who still serves as the vice chairwoman of the Democratic State Committee, who also has the support of DSC Chairman John Currie. Murphy said Monday that he takes the hiring scandal at the SDA “seriously,” but his failure to address the issue directly has left the governor politically vulnerable at a time when he has little political capital to carry him through a bruising budget season.
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