Liz Muoio: A Politically Astute Murphy Appointment

I have hardly been a supporter of Phil Murphy. During the gubernatorial campaign, I severely criticized him both for his policies and for what I considered to be subpar debate performances against Kim Guadagno.

In many ways, he reminded me of John Corzine, his fellow alumnus of Goldman Sachs. Corzine was a decent man, but lacking in political acumen more than any other New Jersey governor in my lifetime. He also had an apparent overriding need to be deemed the smartest person in the room.

In this regard, I find Governor-elect Murphy’s appointment of Assemblywoman Elizabeth Muoio as State Treasurer to be most reassuring, especially when compared with former Governor Corzine’s appointment to the same position of Bradley Abelow.

Liz Muoio is highly experienced at both the county and state governmental levels in terms of fiscal and economic development issues. She also has demonstrated political acumen.

Brad Abelow had no public-sector experience whatsoever prior to his appointment as State Treasurer. In terms of political acumen, like Corzine, he had a total tin ear. This accounted for the Corzine-Abelow asset monetization proposal, one of the most politically toxic initiatives ever to be issued by any gubernatorial administration. Indeed, the asset monetization proposal was a major factor in the 2009 Corzine reelection defeat.

The New Jersey State Treasurer has more impact on public policy than any other Cabinet official. It is essential that a State Treasurer possess political acumen for two reasons. First, politics is the art of the possible, and a State Treasurer with political acumen will avoid politically toxic schemes like the Corzine-Abelow asset monetization proposal. Second, a State Treasurer must have politics acumen in order to work with the legislature and secure passage of key fiscal and economic development measures. This is a political asset of Liz Muoio that will serve her well.

The Muoio appointment conclusively demonstrates a major point of contrast between Jon Corzine and Phil Murphy. Corzine had little respect for political experience and acumen in terms of governing. His overriding ego and Goldman Sachs accomplishments led him to believe that political talent was only valuable in terms of winning elections. He saw very little need, for the most part, for political acumen in terms of his appointees. For Jon Corzine, Wall Street experience was a far more impressive credential than the political experience of Main Street. It was no surprise that Main Street repudiated him when he sought reelection.

Unlike Corzine, Phil Murphy appears to value political acumen as a governmental asset for his top appointees. He also seems to know what he doesn’t know and will value the political and policy advice of his top appointees.

I continue to be highly critical of Murphy’s policies. Republican senators should vigorously question Liz Muoio about her policy views at the confirmation hearings. They should avoid, however, any ad hominem attacks on her. Unless there are any serious ethical issues in her background, they should vote for her confirmation.

It will be very important, however, for Phil Murphy to avoid a serious Jon Corzine mistake. The former governor almost never reached out to Republican legislative leadership or veterans of the Republican Kean and Whitman administrations. This is something that Phil Murphy should begin to do during this transition period.

I have new hope that Phil Murphy will do this. For right now, the Liz Muoio appointment gives me reason to believe that Phil Murphy is not Jon Corzine.

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.

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