Veteran Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7) is “in the mix” to serve as Gov-elect Phil Murphy’s commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Health, according to a source.
It’s not a done deal, the source insisted, but it’s real.
A medical doctor (and attorney) Conaway is the long-serving powerful chairman of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee and an impact player in Burlington County politics.
The fact that he stood pat earlier this year when his slate mate, Senator-elect Troy Singleton (D-7), made the play for the senate seat vacated by retiring Senator Diane Allen (R-7), led insiders to speculate about the cutting of a deal.
“Herb to Cooper,” a source mused.
“Herb to the administration.”
On the other hand, Conaway already wields considerable influence where he is, arguably the equivalent of Frank Pallone in Congress, who at this point has the pole position on House power as a consequence of seniority and leadership cred, so much so as to arguably give him pause about moving up to the U.S. Senate in the event of a vacancy.
South Jersey Democrats and Murphy aren’t getting along at the moment, but to some sources Conaway – an intellectually hyperkinetic assemblyman – presents almost the perfect opportunity for the govern0r-elect to throw a nod to the South without getting saddled with someone from too close to the GN3 club house. Then again, Murphy has campaigned in North Jersey on veterans issues with state Senator Jim Beach (D-6), who as a safe district South Jersey Democrat could present Murphy with another (arguably closer to the inner sanctum) option.
The governor-elect’s picks so far show strategic designs on feeding key regional allies.
Up until yesterday when Murphy tapped Gurbir Grewal to serve as his AG, mammoth Bergen had its nose pressed up against the window of power. Party powerbroker Brian M. Hughes likewise sat on a chilled Mercer until today, when Murphy picked Assemblywoman Liz Muoio (D-15) as his treasurer.
County by county, pooh-bah by pooh-bah, Murphy appears prepared to play an artful political balancing act.
But within that context, even as Conaway continues to circulate as a potential Health Commissioner, sources buzz about Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35) also going to that job, possibly as a consolation prize for having weathered the tires-kicking treatment during Murphy’s exploration for an LG.
LG-elect Sheila Oliver ultimately outdueled Sumter for the job.
Against the backdrop of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) openly antagonizing Murphy’s hand-picked Democratic State Party Chairman, John Currie, might Murphy double down on pockets of North Jersey disdain for the senate prez with a selection of Sumter for Health Commissioner, or attempt to work with the South by opting for Conaway; or parcel Human Services to Sumter and Health to Conaway?
Or avoid those kinds of painful collisions by going elsewhere.
Those were the processes on Wednesday night.