Monmouth and Ocean counties delivered more votes for Gov.-elect Chris Christie than Hudson and Essex counties did for Gov. Jon S. Corzine, which means for the first time in a decade the Jersey Shore will be able to exercise real political clout in Trenton come Jan. 19. Long dismissed as irrelevant in statewide elections, the populations of the two counties have been growing in recent decades to the extent there are now more than one million people living in Monmouth and Ocean. “But Jon Corzine did not even come here (to Ocean, to campaign); he basically told us we didn’t matter,” observed Republican Ocean County Clerk Carl W. Block.
Chistie’s campaign chairman, state Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr., R-Monmouth, said the governor-elect is likely to consider “a number of well-qualified residents” from the Shore area for important roles in the new administration.
The New Jersey governor occupies one of the most powerful elected offices in the United States. He or she selects the entire cabinet and fills other high-ranking positions throughout the state, subject to Senate confirmation. Numerous other states have direct elections for offices such as attorney general, Superior Court judgeships and county prosecutors.
The governor-elect also will make thousands of smaller appointments to staff the immense ship of state that represents the executive branch.
“Our governor also has the power to exercise a line-item veto,” Kyrillos said. “It’s an inordinately strong position.”
Kyrillos said of Christie: “Knowing him as a I do, he’ll make his decisions and calls based on the merits and qualifications of each person. But at the end of the day, he will obviously be mindful of the opinions of the people he trusts and has come to respect, and there’s a lot of people in Monmouth and Ocean counties in that category.”
This past week, Christie named Kyrillos and Ocean County Republican Chairman George R. Gilmore to his 10-member transition team.
One of the first jobs Christie will attend to after taking office on that third Tuesday in January will be to appoint a new sheriff for Monmouth County to replace Kim Guadagno, his running mate on the winning Republican ticket
According to state law, when a vacancy occurs in the office of sheriff “other than by expiration of term,” the governor “shall fill such vacancy with the advice and consent of the Senate by appointment of a member of the same political party as that of the previous incumbent of the office.”
Christie’s appointed sheriff would hold the office for the rest of 2010. A full three-year sheriff term would then be on the ballot in November 2010.
Other choices are likely to be made by Christie in the coming year for high-level county jobs where terms are ending. Monmouth County Prosecutor Luis A. Valentin and Superintendent of Elections Hedra Siskel, both Democrats, are nearing the end of their terms.
Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford, a 2007 Corzine appointee and former Democratic state assemblywoman, will see her term expire in 2012. Ford is the only Democrat to hold major countywide office in Ocean.
State Sen. Christopher J. Connors, R-Ocean, said the pressing economic troubles of the day that matter to all New Jersey residents of course will be at the top of the new governor’s agenda.
“That is obviously the more generic need of the state for a smaller, less costly government, reducing regulations on businesses, improving the business climate and putting people back to work,” Connors said. “Certainly, if he does that on a statewide venture, Ocean County will be a beneficiary of that.”
Having said that, Connors is hopeful that the 70,000-plus vote plurality Ocean County produced for Christie on Nov. 3 will yield positive results for the region throughout his administration.
“As far as Ocean County is concerned, we would hope that we would have greater input in the policies that shape New Jersey than what we’ve had in the most recent seven or eight years,” Connors said. “There are going to be a lot of various boards, bodies and commissions which have vacancies, and we hope to get Ocean County residents to fill some of those vacancies.”
Beyond that, there are certain infrastructure improvements and public works projects needed for Ocean County that have not in his view received the kind of support from Corzine required to bring to fruition. One of those projects — in the senator’s 9th Legislative District — is replacement of the Route 72 bridges linking Long Beach Island with the mainland.
“We had asked the support of the governor to see that the design phase was expedited or shortened from this planned three-year design phase,” which involves an arduous environmental permitting process, Connors said.
Earlier this year, Connors and Rep. John Adler, D-N.J., met with Corzine in an effort to persuade him to put the full power of his office behind the project.
“We essentially requested that if there was any way possible to expedite that design phase, to perhaps cut a year off this phase to get the project moving quicker than it had,” Connors said. “Of course, we never really received any response along those lines. So hopefully, that’s something that can be looked at. Because it’s extremely important to get that bridge project finished sooner rather than later.
“But certainly, the result of the Nov. 3 election indicates Ocean County plays a significant role in determining who the governor is and to that extent, we want to continue to be heard,” Connors said. APP