Murphy Learns Fast with Prieto Appointment to Sports and Expo

Given his non-political background, many probably wondered how new Gov. Phil Murphy would handle the more partisan aspects of the job.

They need not worry any longer; Murphy looks like a quick learner. We know that by last week’s naming of former Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto as CEO of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. Prieto was officially appointed by the authority’s Board of Commissioners, but this type of thing doesn’t happen without the governor’s blessing.

There is nothing unique about well-connected politicians getting lucrative public jobs. It is, obviously, one of the bipartisan rites of politics as usual. Still, there are questions and observations to make.

One is that Murphy, a one-time Goldman Sachs executive, has not been a politician before in the true sense of the word. He was ambassador to Germany, but that doesn’t really count. So, it’s interesting, as we said, that the governor already is falling in line with how the game is played.

More to the point, Prieto, who represented Hudson County’s 32nd District, will be paid $280,000 a year. That’s $55,000 more than the man he will replace, Wayne Hasenbalg. Why the increase?

Additionally, Hasenbalg apparently will stay on. Huh? Even if his stay is temporary, does the authority, in effect, need two executives – one coming and one going?

Let’s digress.

The Sports Authority was created in 1971 to oversee what became the Meadowlands Sports Complex and its main attraction, Giants’ Stadium. Over the years, its purview has expanded to include various amenities outside of the Meadowlands, including the state aquarium in Camden.

But at around the same time as the authority was formed, the state also created the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission. Its goal was to oversee future development in the region, protect the environment and perhaps most importantly, regulate and/or stop trash dumping, some of which was illegal. By all accounts, the commission did a good job overseeing a region that long has been a source of derogatory jokes about New Jersey.

Three years ago, the commission was merged into the Sports & Exposition Authority. There are many issues for the merged agency, including continued improvement of the Meadowlands, the future of the now-closed Izod Center, the long-delayed American Dream Meadowlands project and bringing more events to MetLife Stadium. To that end, the authority is preparing a bid for MetLife to play host to World Cup soccer matches in 2026

So, the job of authority CEO certainly is an important one.

Which brings us back to Prieto. In the tradition of many Hudson County politicians, Prieto had multiple public jobs. Not only did he serve in the Assembly, Prieto also had construction code related jobs in his hometown of Secaucus and Guttenberg. You wonder how he found the time. Now, his work schedule is about to be simplified with one job, albeit one that pays him more than his other three jobs combined.

Anyone looking at this episode from afar may be tempted to wonder about Prieto’s qualifications. He does have a construction background, which could help him understand zoning regulations in the Meadowlands and the like. And his experience as a state legislator can be invaluable in understanding in layman’s terms, “how things work.” He also lives in the region. That may not be a great plus, but it certainly is not a negative.

Still, someone may wonder if anyone else was considered for this position. Like someone who has overseen a similar agency elsewhere in the country. Some also may ask if Prieto is skilled in environmental science? How about expertise in how to maintain a successful entertainment complex?  Maybe he has those skills, but we really do not know.

What this proverbial person looking at things from afar does not know, but probably could surmise, is that Prieto got this job as a consolation prize. And a very good one at that.

As things settled after last year’s legislative election, it became clear that Prieto was going to lose his job as Assembly Speaker. Now, this didn’t mean he was losing his seat in the Assembly; only his leadership position. That apparently was not good enough. So to spare Prieto the indignity of going from Speaker to a rank-and-file legislator, the powers-that-be secured for him an extremely safe landing spot.

On one hand, there is nothing unusual about such shenanigans. They happen all the time.

Yet, on the other hand, it’s an early sign that Murphy is attuned to business as usual when it comes to patronage. If this is going to be the norm for the Murphy administration, it’s not good.


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3 responses to “Murphy Learns Fast with Prieto Appointment to Sports and Expo”

  1. I don’t think Vinny Prieto is less qualified to head the Sports and Exposition Authority than Phil Murphy was when Obama named him Ambassador to Germany, or Woody Johnson when Bozo named him Ambassador to Britain.

  2. Yea Vinny Prieto is not the bad guy he fought against the south jersey scumbags multiple times believe me even know you see murphy is handcuffed by the south jersey with the speakership and the senate presidency all of a sudden Sweeney is a opposing the millionaires tax and now is putting in place tax policy committee and Coughlin would not support marijuana in New Jersey give me a break they are going to do everything to make murphy look bad so Sweeney can try to run for governor again. South Jersey is the Scrotum of New Jersey

  3. Prieto championed the dissolving of the Meadowlands Commission and folding its assets and operations into the NJSEA in 2014. The NJSEA, with no expertise in regional planning or water resource policy and
    science, is implementing the regional planning regulations under NJAC 19-4-7. The Meadowlands
    Regional Master Plan has expired and NJSEA will be required to draft a new master plan under Prieto. The Meadowlands Commission succeeded in revitalizing what was a vast, toxic dead zone, after more than a century of uncontrolled industrial development, fill operations, and solid waste dumping that obliterated a once vibrant natural landscape of cedar swamp and salt marsh. Northern NJ has greatly benefited from a strong regional plan in the Meadowlands. Now, the lead advocate for the Meadowlands Commission’s demise will head its successor, the NJSEA. Will a strong regional planning authority survive?

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