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TRENTON – Loretta Weinberg got right to the point even before the report into the Katie Brennan-Al Alvarez saga was made public.
“Common sense is hard to legislate,” said the Democratic senator from Teaneck and the co-chair of the Legislative committee that spent six moths looking into why Alvarez was given a high-powered state job after being accused of raping a woman who also landed a high-powered state job.
When the 123-page report was made public Wednesday, it was easy to see what Weinberg was talking about.
As she and other committee members also said, the system didn’t fail; people did. Or more specifically, the top people surrounding Gov. Phil Murphy.
The report expanded on excerpts obtained earlier this week by InsiderNJ.com.
More than once, the committee’s report used the word, “embarrassing” to describe how Team Murphy handled the situation.
Brennan alleged Alvarez sexually assaulted her in April, 2017 before Murphy was governor. But when Alvarez was being considered for a job a few months later, the committee faults the Murphy transition team for not investigating the matter.
Not only was there no investigation, the governor was not told about the incident.
On one hand, this is truly hard to believe. But if you allow for general incompetence, maybe it isn’t.
The report said that Matt Platkin, the governor’s chief counsel, apparently decided not to tell Murphy through a legal determination he made after “one hour of EEO (employment law) training and his reading of applicable policy …” The sarcasm here is pretty heavy, no?
This is where we come again to the common sense part of the equation. Just why would anyone believe that the governor should not be told about an alleged rape involving two key members of his administration? One can ask – and reporters did ask – if the committee really thought Murphy did not know. The response was there was no evidence that he did.
As to the mystery of who hired Alvarez, that remains unsolved. The committee put it this way:
“We are disappointed by the refusal of every member of the transition and administration who was involved in the hiring process to take responsibility as a decision-maker in the hiring of Mr, Alvarez or to even admit that they knew who made the hiring decision.”
By using the word, “refusal,” the committee suggests administration officials know who hired Alvarez, but simply refused to say. Why not?
Actually, it’s more than a suggestion. In another section of the report, the committee said that the administration’s professed lack of knowledge in this regard appeared to have been “purposeful and not inadvertent.”
Now, we come to the confusion surrounding Alvarez’ departure, In short, he was told to leave his job with the School Development Authority in March of 2018, but he stayed around until October, And in August of that year, he got a $30,000 raise, which the report said was – you guessed it – “embarrassing.”
What happens next?
Sure, the committee proposed legislation that essentially would extend state employment law to cover transition employees. But as Weinberg sagely said in the beginning of all this, you can’t legislate common sense.
Republican Sen. Kristin Corrado of Passaic County, who joined fellow Republican Steve Oroho of Sussex County in abstaining on accepting the report, said the committee should have investigated other patronage hires of the Murphy administration.
The politics here is easy to see, but let’s acknowledge reality. All administrations regardless of party dole out patronage jobs. Patronage wasn’t the issue here. The real issue was an alleged sexual assault and how it was, or was not, handled.
But Corrado was onto something when she noted Murphy has shown little interest in holding his staff accountable for their missteps – at least publicly. For instance, he has never expressed what would be understandable anger after being kept in the dark about the alleged sexual assault. After all, he’s the guy who looks bad.
The report was most critical of Pete Cammarano, who had been the governor’s chief of staff, and Platkin for among other things, not informing Murphy, not investigating the incident and for not forcing Alvarez to leave sooner than he did.
Cammarano is gone, but as Corrado noted, Platkin is not.