21. Matt Platkin
The fact that he is still on the list — that he still serves as Murphy’s chief counsel — shows the influence he has. Most prognosticators felt Platkin would be sacrificed during the Katie Brennan sexual assault hearings. One insider said that was never a possibility. “Murphy loves him. I know getting rid of Matt was a popular viewpoint, it just wasn’t a realistic one.” Another insider summed up his influence this way: “Tell me one major move the governor has made without his input.”
22. Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti
Commissioner of transportation
State of New Jersey
No one on the list has greater potential influence. Because no one in the administration is so out front on public issues. At least, that was the take of one of the insiders. “If she can solve the commuter problem — whether it be NJ Transit or the Gateway Tunnel or just getting the potholes filled — she becomes the star of the administration. All of those things will be golden moments for the governor.” The Jersey native and longtime transportation executive has a few fans who think she will succeed. “She has the brains, the ability and the power.”
23. George Helmy
Chief of staff
The potential scope of the job is so big — and so important — that Helmy earns a top spot among the state’s influencers just a month into his job as Murphy’s chief of staff. “Good luck with that,” one insider said. “That may be the toughest job in the state. And it’s especially hard when you’re the second person in it. He gets no honeymoon period.” Many feel Helmy is up for the task. As the former state director for Booker, he is used to working for high-powered people in high-powered roles. That’s why many felt he was a strong choice for the spot. 24Kevin O’Toole
24. Kevin O’Toole
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
As chairman of the Port Authority, he has the power to battle governors on both sides of the river. As a managing partner at the O’Toole Scrivo law firm he founded and as a former well-regarded politician (he’s been a mayor, assemblyman and state senator), he knows how. And, as a Christie appointee in 2017, he has the job security of a six-year term. “Kevin is the perfect person for this job,” one insider said. “He’s smart and tough.”
25. Frank Spencer
Second general vice president
United Brotherhood of Carpenters
He’s a national labor leader, serving as the second general vice president at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. Most people feel the carpenters are the state’s most powerful union; Spencer is a big reason why. “Nothing gets built without going through the carpenters, and that means going through Frank,” one insider said. A former Camden County freeholder, Spencer remains active in New Jersey. He is on the board of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.
26. Jose Lozano
Choose New Jersey
Lozano appears primed to take Choose New Jersey to the next level. In the coming months, it will move to the Gateway Center in Newark, sharing space with the EDA and the Governor’s Office to create an economic resource center in the state’s most important city. Look for Lozano to make the organization more responsive and proactive as he attempts to sell the state’s attributes to outside companies.
27. Loretta Weinberg
State Senate, 37th District (D)
State of New Jersey
If there’s one truth that came out of the Brennan hearings, it is this: Loretta Weinberg is never going to stop asking tough questions. Democratic leaders discovered the hard way what Republicans leaders learned during the Christie administration: Weinberg relentlessly seeks the truth. “You have to understand,” one insider said. “Loretta is not on one team or the other. She’s on her own team. And I mean that in the best possible way. She fights for what is right.”
28. Dennis Drazin
Sports wagering has been a big economic boon for the state since it was (surprisingly) legalized last summer. It has the potential to be a huge money-maker (far greater than cannabis, most think). Putting a face on it this year is tough. Former state Sen. Ray Lesniak deserves a nod, as does Christie. This year, we’ll give the nod to Drazin, who — as the head of Monmouth Park — was well ahead of the curve. A spot he continues to hold.
29. Bill Caruso
Archer Public Affairs
The enormous possibility and potential of pot is giving way to profitability. Medical marijuana use is growing — and recreational use appears to be weeks/months away from getting passed. A whole host of people helped get the movement to the finish line, so it’s tough to pick the most influential. We’re going with Caruso, the managing director of Archer Public Affairs, who was backing cannabis when cannabis wasn’t cool (read: the Christie administration). He was one of the founding leaders of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. “A lot of people have jumped on the pot bandwagon,” one insider said. “Caruso’s always been in the front seat.”
It could be someone on TV or radio, but we’re going to go with Jason Franklin of the National Weather Service in Mount Holly. Franklin could be this state’s version of Snow Miser. He can’t cancel Christmas, but he can create a state of emergency. You want influence? How about the ability to shut down the state — bringing businesses everywhere to a halt — by even hinting that a snowstorm may be on the way?