The power to appoint

Gov. Christie. From choosing high court nominees to perfusionists,the powers are vast.
Gov. Christie. From choosing high court nominees to perfusionists,the powers are vast. (RICH SCHULTZ / AP)

Judgeships get the notice, but N.J. has myriad posts for governor's choosing.

Posted: August 13, 2012

Being governor of New Jersey means you have $30 billion or so to spend each year. It means the Lincoln Tunnel closes when you need to get to New York, a mansion in Princeton is open for parties, and a Shore house at Island Beach State Park is free for your swimming pleasure.

And then there's this: You get to appoint six people to the Perfusionists Advisory Committee and nine to the Noise Control Council.

The perfusionists (heart-lung machine operators) and the noise-control people (it's an environmental thing) are not part of Gov. Christie's inner circle, but they represent a vast gubernatorial power.

The state has at least 6,235 appointable seats, some of which are controlled by legislative leaders but many of which are the responsibility of the governor. The appointees are mostly anonymous people attending occasional meetings of mostly anonymous boards, task forces, and authorities. Governors also pick their own staffs, cabinet members, and midlevel officials. They could probably get your son a job at the Department of Transportation, too.

Some appointments need state Senate approval; others are quick-and-easy patronage picks. Some come with salaries; some with pensions, too.

"It's a way to put your team in place so that the government in New Jersey acts at your direction," says political scientist Ben Dworkin of Rider University.

Like his predecessors, Christie wields this power the way experts say it was meant to be wielded: to reward friends, punish enemies, and reflect priorities. (Unexpected appointments also come up, such as when Christie learned last week that he has to appoint a new Farmingdale Borough Council after all six members resigned.)

According to a website where New Jerseyans can apply to be appointed, the governor puts people on 468 boards, commissions, and authorities. Some are dormant (the Free Cuba Task Force); others are active but ignored (the Organized Retail Theft Task Force, created by 2008 legislation, hasn't been filled by Christie).

There's the Advisory Board on Carnival Amusement Ride Safety, the Acupuncture Examining Board, and the Aquaculture Advisory Council.

Those are just the A's.

Judicial nominations are higher-profile. Some conservatives raised eyebrows about Sohail Mohammed, an Indian American lawyer who defended fellow Muslims detained but not charged after 9/11. Christie made him a Superior Court judge, denounced his critics as "crazies," and two weeks ago told an audience of Muslims that they, too, should put in for judgeships.

That may have said something about Christie's rapport with the Muslim community, but often appointments are just made to find gigs for allies.

For example, two Christie nominees to the state Supreme Court were recently rejected by Democrats. Having survived grueling legislative hearings on the governor's behalf, both landed at transportation authorities where he has appointment power: Bruce Harris became general counsel at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority; Philip Kwon, deputy general counsel at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In an indication of how Christie recycles appointees, Kwon is replacing Paula Dow, who took the port job after leaving her appointed post as attorney general. Dow was recently named to Burlington County Superior Court.

Kwon will find some familiar faces at the port authority. Christie's former chief of staff, for example, is on the board of commissioners.

Alan Rosenthal, public policy and political science professor at Rutgers University, says appointments no longer carry much political juice. At one time governors "could use appointments to get votes from legislators," but now it's hard to peel away enough Democrats to matter.

Instead, Dworkin said, appointments are used to engender goodwill: "It's a big incentive for people to play nice with the governor."

But it can also be used for the opposite purpose - as a stick in a political fight. Take last year's spat between Christie and a former governor, Sen. Richard Codey (D., Essex), whose cousin lost his job at the port authority. He was replaced by Dow.

Christie feels the heat after some of these moves, but it rarely lingers. Recently, Democrats criticized him for naming his friend Michele Brown to head the Economic Development Agency. When Christie was U.S. attorney, Brown was one of his top aides - but she resigned after it was revealed that Christie had lent her $46,000.

Democrats said the appointment politicized an independent agency. They noted that Brown has long been in Christie's inner circle - a political adviser with important responsibilities.

Her old job in the governor's office? She was in charge of appointments.


Contact Matt Katz

at 609-217-8355 and mkatz@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mattkatz00.

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