Lozano to replace Brown as head of Choose New Jersey

Michele Brown has been head of Choose New Jersey since January 2015. – File photo

Jose Lozano is expected to take over as the new head of Choose New Jersey, replacing Michele Brown, three people with knowledge of the move told ROI-NJ.

All of the people requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the subject.

Lozano, the chief of staff at Hackensack Meridian Health, most recently served as the head of Gov. Phil Murphy’s transition team.

The timing of the potential move is unclear. One source said the announcement could come as soon as the next Choose New Jersey board meeting, scheduled for April 19.

“It would be great for the state if there was a formal change of leadership at the meeting,” the person said.

Another cautioned the change may not come that quickly, saying the board at Choose New Jersey, chaired by PSEG Power President and Chief Operating Officer Ralph LaRossa, needs to take its time and do its due diligence in accordance with its bylaws.

“There is a process that needs to be followed,” the source said.

LaRossa, reached Wednesday morning, said Brown remains the head of the group. But he also said the group is preparing for a transition if needed.

“We weren’t sure what our role would be with the administration going forward,” he told ROI-NJ. “The governor’s transition report indicated a desire to work with us, which we were thrilled to hear.

“Our ambassadors met with the governor Monday night, when he reiterated his desire to maintain Choose New Jersey.

“As a result of that conversation, we quickly pulled together a transition committee that will look at our role in the economic development community moving forward.”

LaRossa said the four-person transition committee will include himself; Kathy Ellis, who recently retired as a vice president at New Jersey Resources; Carl Van Horn, a distinguished professor at Rutgers University who was co-chair of the governor’s Stronger and Fairer Economy Committee; and Lozano.

The long-expected move to transition the leadership of Choose New Jersey was jump-started Monday night, when Murphy held a reception in Trenton for the those at the Ambassador Level — the highest level — of the Choose New Jersey board, the sources said.

Lozano, as well as Murphy’s chief of staff, Pete Cammarano; chief counsel, Matt Platkin; and the head of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Tim Sullivan, were all present at the meeting.

According to the sources, the governor expressed his strong support for Choose New Jersey, saying he values the work it does for the state.

The governor was quick to say that he understood the group operates independently and that it will seek other candidates.

But Murphy, speaking to approximately 20 top executives, said he felt Lozano would be a strong choice, the sources said.

After Murphy and his officials left, the board members present held an impromptu meeting. At that time, “three or four” other potential candidates were discussed or suggested, a source said.

The source said the other candidates would need to be recruited.

“Remember,” the source said, “Michele Brown was recruited into this role and that worked out pretty well.”

Choose New Jersey is an independently funded and operated nonprofit organization whose mission is to encourage and nurture economic growth throughout New Jersey, with a focus on urban centers.

It was founded in 2010, during the administration of Gov. Chris Christie. Tracye McDaniel was named its first CEO in February 2011 and served for four years before returning to her native Texas. Brown was named to replace her in January of 2015.

The Choose board is made up of top officials from many of the state’s top companies. According to the Choose New Jersey website, its leaders represent 1.25 million people, or nearly one-quarter of the state’s private-sector workforce.

Because of its status, the head is appointed by its board, not the governor. However, all the sources agreed it would be difficult for the organization to function smoothly and effectively if it were in conflict with the governor.

Selecting someone other than Lozano appears highly unlikely, one source said.

“It’s impossible to do the job if you do not have the full support and backing of the governor,” the source said.

And Lozano has the governor’s backing.

He became a major player on Murphy’s team following his role leading the governor’s transition team after the November election.

When Murphy selected Lozano for the role, he said it was only a temporary position in state government and that he had no plans to keep Lozano on after the January inauguration.

However, after Lozano did a strong job — helping the governor appoint a diverse cabinet that has more women than men for the first time — the governor was looking for a way to keep Lozano, one of the sources said.

After considering Lozano for a number of positions, it was determined the role as head of Choose New Jersey would be the best fit.

Lozano has a strong history of success in both business and politics.

He is widely credited as being one of the architects of two major projects at Hackensack.

Lozano helped then-Hackensack University Health Network create a new medical school (along with Seton Hall University), merge with Meridian Health to form the second-largest health care system in the state and assist on a number of other partnerships that have helped make Hackensack Meridian a model for the health care system of the future.

Lozano, 38, also has a history of government service work.

He served leaders in both New Jersey and Washington, D.C., for more than a decade, working for U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Gov. Jon Corzine and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson. He also worked on Corzine’s transition team in 2005.

The widely respected Brown took over at Choose New Jersey in January 2015, after serving as CEO of the EDA for more than two years.

Prior to that, Brown served as appointments counsel to Gov. Chris Christie. She has extensive background practicing law, serving 18 years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey.

Neither Lozano nor Brown answered requests for comment.