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For more than three months, Al Alvarez was the “Invisible Man,” hovering above a majestic hearing room in Trenton, constantly spoken about, but not seen.
That changed shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday when the man himself walked into that very hearing room in the Statehouse Annex to answer questions.
His appearance officially was about hiring practices of the Murphy Administration, not the more salacious allegation that he raped Katie Brennan in April of 2017.
Alvarez’ brief opening statement got right to the point.
He said he had been falsely accused by Brennan and that whatever happened between them in a Jersey City apartment was “consensual.”
Subsequent to that 2017 event, a number of things related to the subject at hand occurred.
Phil Murphy was elected governor and both Alvarez and Brennan got high ranking state jobs respectively with the Schools Development Authority and a state housing and finance agency. Brennan still has the job; Alvarez has left.
For more than three months of periodic Select Committee hearings, lawmakers have explored two related questions – why was Alvarez given a state job while being accused of rape and also, who hired him?
You would think that the second query – who hired Alvarez – would be easy to answer.
And so it was that at precisely 11:46 a.m., co-counsel Michael Critchley popped the question.
“Who hired you?” he asked Alvarez.
Alvarez said he was told by Jose Lozano, the head of the Murphy transition team, to meet Charlie McKenna, who was running the schools authority as a Christie holdover. They met at the Trenton Starbucks, a location that later in the day drew some sarcasm from Republican Senator Kristin Corrado of Passaic County. (If Alvarez was up on Passaic politics, he could have cracked that Murph’s Tavern, a local GOP hangout in Totowa, was not available).
But let’s not get off topic. Alvarez gave the impression that his meeting with McKenna was evidence that him getting the job of chief of staff was a “done deal.”
Critchley was not satisfied.
As the clock ticked to 11:49 a.m, he asked, “Who said to you, ‘you’re hired.'”
Replied Alvarez, “No one said to me, ‘you’re hired.'”
“You just assumed the position?” Critchley said.
Alvarez talked about an informal (really?) hiring process, noting that he had expressed interest in the chief of staff job and that “no one objected to me going there.” Later in the day, Alvarez took exception at the notion he may have been a “system” hire, contending he was well qualified for the post. Alvarez is a lawyer.
Critchley still was left to wonder about who told Alvarez such essential particulars as when to show up for work and more importantly, how much he’d be paid.
In the afternoon session, Joseph Hayden, another co-counsel, got a bit further after noting that “You don’t just walk into a job and start doing it.” If you are keeping score at home, this was at 1:40 p.m.
Actually, if this case is indicative of anything, maybe you do just walk in.
Still, at this point with testimony building upon testimony – Alvarez was there all day – the committee was able to identify Matt Platkin, the governor’s counsel, and Pete Cammarano, the governor’s then-chief of staff, as the people who would have the authority to hire Alvarez.
Or as they were described, the “decision makers.”
Which brings us back to Corrado. After wondering if the Murphy Administration often conducted interviews at Starbucks, she asked Alvarez if he could explain why the question of who hired him has been so hard to answer.
Alvarez said he could not.
Tuesday’s hearing also confirmed another mystery. Not only do we don’t know who hired Alvarez, we don’t know why he wasn’t fired.
Testimony at earlier hearings has revealed that after the Brennan allegation surfaced, Alvarez was told in March of 2018, and also in June of 2018, to leave his job. He did not.
His testimony essentially was that in his mind the “order” that he leave his job was more of a suggestion than an imperative. This contradicted earlier testimony by administration officials, including Cammarano.
As we know, Alvarez left in early October of 2018 when the Wall Street Journal contacted him about a story involving Brennan’s allegations.
If not for that occurrence, it seems possible, if not likely, Alvarez would still be in his job today.
As was pointed out, not only did Alvarez stay in his job after being told twice to leave, his pay jumped from $140,000 to $170,000 annually last August.
Near the end of the hearing, Rosemary Alito, yet another co-counsel, said Alvarez’ entire employment history seemed “very unusual.”
Well, maybe not.
Alvarez replied that a lot of those hired by the administration got their jobs the same way he did.