Gov. Chris Christie announced at a press conference this morning that Rich Bagger, his chief of staff, is stepping down to become a senior vice president at Celgene Corp., in Summit.
"Rich has been an extraordinary leader in this office, and I and the lieutenant governor both consider ourselves extraordinarily lucky to have been able to have lured him out of the private sector," Christie said.
Bagger said he was grateful for the opportunity to work for Christie.
"When I took this position two years ago, it was always my intention that this would be an extended sabbatical from the private sector, and that I would do this for a certain period of time and have an impact and make positive contributions, and then return to the private sector," Bagger said.
Bagger had been among the longest-serving chiefs of staff to a New Jersey governor, and was "a calming influence in a crazy shop," a source told NJBIZ last year.
Bagger described his new job as an opportunity to return "to the life sciences sector, joining an innovative global biopharmaceutical company." He worked as a senior vice president of government relations with Pfizer Inc. His other private-sector experience includes stints at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and McCarter & English. Bagger has served in both the Assembly and state Senate. At Celgene, he will be senior vice president of corporate affairs and strategic market access.
That business experience "resonates with businesses (and) sets him apart from the administration," another insider said of Bagger.
Christie acknowledged that he would miss Bagger's perspective from the corporate world.
"Whenever you put one person in for another, there are going to be things you pick up in that trade and there are going to be things you lose in that trade — but it's not as if I'm going to lose Bagger's number, believe me," Christie said.
Christie said he expects Bagger to stay involved.
"He's going to be a major player in a significant New Jersey corporation," Christie said. "As a result, he's going to have great interest, I'm sure, both personally as a resident of the state and professionally as an executive, a senior executive, in the state, in things that are going on down here."
Robert J. Hugin, Celgene chairman and CEO, praised Bagger in a press release issued shortly after Christie's announcement.
"Rich brings unparalleled expertise in the area of government and public affairs within our industry, and has also served in key strategic roles at the top levels of pharmaceutical policy and communications," Hugin said. "We believe he will add a vital perspective to our business as we advance our science and novel therapies into new areas of medicine around the world."
Bagger's departure is the most significant among a host of administration shuffling. Among the other moves announced this morning by Christie:
– Kevin O'Dowd will replace Bagger as chief of staff. Jeff Chiesa, who has been chief counsel to Christie, will become attorney general.
– Filling Chiesa's old chair is Charles McKenna, director of the state's Department of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
– Wayne Hasenbalg, the governor's deputy chief of staff for policy and planning, will become head of the Sports and Exposition Authority. Hasenbalg, the governor's point staff person on sports, replaces Dennis R. Robinson, who announced last week his resignation to become chief operations officer of the Grand Prix of America, bringing Formula One racing to West New York and Weehawken in 2013.
Christie credited McKenna with the state's preparedness for Hurricane Irene, adding: "I think he'll bring that same measure of commitment and ingenuity to the job of chief counsel."
He also spoke highly of Hasenbalg's contributions, particularly the idea the sports authority should coordinate entertainment, travel and tourism for the state. He said Hasenbalg has been discussing details of this with Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, whose office currently oversees these activities.
"I think there'll be a coordination of assets between the sports authority and the lieutenant governor's office," Christie said.
Christie said Hasenbalg's closeness to him will be beneficial, since he will have the authority to speak for the governor.