Pete Cammarano had a pretty nice political gig as mayor of Metuchen.
Then he became Chief of Staff to Gov. Phil Murphy.
And that’s what got him entangled in the ongoing Katie Brennan sexual assault allegation case. For about five hours Thursday, Cammarano was questioned by at times skeptical members of a Select Committee looking into the handling of the case. This was the second time Cammarano was before the committee and the “fun” is not yet over. Cammarano is expected to come back again.
Of course, the back and forth was more of the same. A lot of ground already plowed was covered yet again.
The essential questions have not changed.
Just why didn’t anyone tell Murphy that Brennan had accused Al Alvarez of sexual assault dating back to April, 2017?
And why was Alvarez allowed to stay in his job with the Schools Development Authority for about six months after he was told to depart?
In varied ways, the answers we heard today were similar to what we have heard previously from both Cammarano and others. Essentially, everyone was following legal advice for confidentiality even if that meant keeping the governor in the dark.
Things got a bit edgy when a feisty Kristin Corrado, a Republican senator from Passaic County, reminded Cammarano of his mayoral days in Metuchen. She asked if one borough employee was accused of raping another, isn’t that something then-Mayor Cammarano would have wanted to know. It was a pretty clever question, but Cammarano deflected it, saying. “I’m not going to speculate on a hypothetical question like that.”
But Corrado wasn’t done. After Cammarano repeatedly said he was following the legal advice of Matt Platkin, the governor’s chief counsel, Corrado noted that Cammarano has much more governmental experience than the younger Platkin. As such, was he ever inclined to question the young fellow’s guidance? Cammarano declined to respond directly to that, but said he is not a lawyer himself and as such, has no choice but to follow legal counsel’s advice Republicans are well aware nothing about this episode makes Murphy or his underlings look good.
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, a Republican from Union County, observed that a lot of lawyers knew about the allegations, but they all urged others to keep silent. She asked if this made Cammarano, a seasoned political hand, uncomfortable. He acknowledged that there were aspects of this case that did indeed make him uncomfortable.
In a brief mood of reflection, Cammarano said referring to this case, “The system didn’t work. We have to fix that.”
Earlier in the day. Democratic Senator Loretta Weinberg of Bergen County, zeroed in on the fact Alvarez was told to leave his job in March, but ended up staying until October, or when the Wall Street Journal began looking into Brennan’s allegations. She expressed surprise that apparently “no one thought” it was urgent to tell Alvarez to move on.
To which, Cammarano cryptically replied that the administration did see this as an urgent matter even if it did not seem that way.
And on this, the fourth day of committee hearings, there was also discussion as to why Alvarez was hired in the first place.
Sussex County Republican Senator Steve Oroho said that it seemed as if Alvarez was just able to “slide into” a high-paying job. His salary began at $140,000 a year and was subsequently raised to $170,000, although testimony has suggested that the higher pay was not necessarily meant for him, but for his replacement.
This prompted a discussion as to whether Alvarez was a “political” hire. Cammarano said it could have seemed that way.
Time for a reality check. Republicans on the committee may be trying to score points here, but there should be no dispute that Alvarez, who had a key role in the Murphy campaign, was indeed a political hire.
After all, that’s how things work. People who work hard on winning campaigns generally get jobs if they want them. Republicans operate the same way as Democrats do. So, there really was no shock why Alvarez was hired and committee Republicans know it.
Still, there’s the matter of Alvarez being told to leave in March of 2018 – and not leaving.
Republican Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce of Morris County, said, “Mr. Alvarez seemed to be floating around Trenton in a protective bubble.”
Later in the day. Heather Taylor, the state’s chief ethics officer, appeared before the committee. A rape allegation certainly would seem to qualify as a ethical issue, but not this one.
Taylor explained that her office could take no action on Brennan’s allegation because when the event occurred in 2017, neither party were state employees. They were both working for Murphy’s campaign at the time. Moreover, Taylor said the incident did not occur on state property – the scene was Brennan’s apartment in Jersey City.
Lawyers telling people not to tell the governor about a rape allegation among his high-ranking employees. A Catch 22 explanation why the ethics officer didn’t look into it. A man not leaving a job he’s been told to leave. If you think this sounds like something out of a Kafka novel, you’re right.