Murphy’s Walsh Comptroller Roll-out Examined

Kevin Walsh and Phil Murphy

In Newark Thursday, Governor Phil Murphy announced his nomination of Kevin Walsh to serve as Comptroller of the State of New Jersey.

“Walsh has spent the past two decades as a civil rights attorney and as the Executive Director of the Fair Share Housing Center, where he has led the enforcement of the Mount Laurel doctrine to promote racial and economic integration in New Jersey through the expansion of affordable housing,” Murphy said.  “Walsh previously served as Counsel to New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, where he was a key member of the team that led the grassroots effort to abolish the death penalty in New Jersey. In 2007, Walsh was selected by the New Jersey Supreme Court to sit on its Committee on Character to review applicants to the New Jersey Bar. He also served as a member of the state Supreme Court’s Practice Committee, which reviews and recommends potential changes to New Jersey’s Rules of Court.”

Murphy’s address was full of praise, further saying that, “I know that not all the fights Kevin has taken on during his career were politically popular, but they were the right fights.”

Walsh said, “I am excited to join the Governor’s Cabinet and to lead an agency that has made municipal, county, and state entities more effective, more efficient, and more accountable to the people they serve. As State Comptroller, I look forward to serving as an independent voice within government and on behalf of the people of New Jersey.”

Past Comptroller Matt Boxer wished him well with further remarks from State Senator Troy Singleton and Reverend Dr. Charles Boyer, Pastor of the Bethel AME Church.

Following the speeches, a short question and answer period was held.  A question was asked if there was an area Walsh would want to do differently or otherwise focus on as he assumes his new position as State Comptroller.  “I recognize I have a lot of learning to do stepping into a new role,” Walsh said, “and I’m looking forward to beginning that process…. I can say that I will learn from what has occurred and take the seasoned advise of the existing folks there, but I am sure I’ll leave my own mark over time as to what needs to be done.  I look forward to engaging with the public in ways that highlight what needs to be done in the state.  I look forward to hearing from folks through the Comptroller’s fraud hotline, The role of the comptroller is one that requires a lot of confidentiality and discretion but to the extent I am able, I intend to do the job in a way that engages New Jerseyans with what is important.”

Governor Murphy added, “If you don’t understand the Mt. Laurel implications you don’t understand housing in NJ and I think much more broadly segregation and other scourges that we still deal with.  I met Kevin and Peter way back when, when it was cold, dark, and lonely long before I was a candidate, to understand their perspective on this.  We then have met more recently as it relates to this position and we just had a private meeting before coming in here… I have not said in any of those conversations nor will I ever say ‘focus on this don’t focus on that’ this is entirely his… all we need you to do is call balls and strikes and that’s the extent of our marching orders.”

Another question pitched asked if Mr. Walsh was going to be cautious about looking into the wealthy and powerful, and if politics was to be laid aside in his new role.  Before Walsh responded, Murphy prefaced, “Kevin is his own man and will approach this with his own instincts and skills, backgrounds, and perspectives.  [Former Comptroller] Matt [Boxer] is a great role model for this position but there have been several and I’ve had the honor of having Phil in our cabinet, he was in Governor Christie’s cabinet before.  And this is a young office in the scheme of things but an office that’s had some really stellar occupants.”

“In my view,” Walsh said as he stepped back to the podium, “the office and the role that I will play is one to serve New Jerseyans and throughout my career I’ve pursued what I thought was at right and at times that was unpopular and I don’t anticipate changing that approach.  I don’t think it’s about individuals but the job of the comptroller is one that may work in Trenton in ways that has political implications but I see my job as being one of detaching from that and pursuing what is right and what is true, the consequences will be what they may but I don’t like to view it in terms of engaging powerful folks, but doing the right thing.  If that comes with certain consequences or tenses, that’s part of the job I’m ready for.”

Another asked, “You can look into the darkest corners of state government—do you see yourself as an activist?”

“Who I will be is Comptroller remains exactly to be seen,” Walsh replied, “but I think this is a job for a watchdog and that’s a role that I’ve played and am comfortable playing.  I’ve certainly for the last 20 years before worn the hat of activists and I think it’s an important one… as comptroller I think the primary function is watchdog and sharing the truth, digging into the truth, demanding the truth, and that would be the primary role I look forward to.”

The last question referenced Matt Boxer, who allegedly never spoke with previous governors about their investigations before they were published, asking if that was something the governor has followed since taking office?  Governor Murphy answered in the affirmative.  “It is, I had no visibility on Phil Degnan’s analysis of the tax incentives until it was about to come out… I think that’s the way it should be, that’s the way it’ll continue to be.  It’s the relationship we have with the Attorney General on my end as well.”

Governor Murphy closed the session with a short anecdote.  “Kevin said that he will be a watchdog… I’m honored as one of the 176 bills that I signed this week that the seeing eye dog is now New Jersey’s official dog.”

Governor Murphy thanked Walsh, his family, and the gathered advocates saying “this is a great day for the good guys.”

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