The business and political community was surprised last week when Caren Franzini announced she would be stepping down as head of the state's Economic Development Authority. Amid the praise for Franzini, one Democratic legislator wasted no time raising concerns about the selection of Michele Brown as the next CEO.
"It's never been politicized" before, the Democrat said. "Just as the governor has tried to politicize the judicial system and county prosecutors … there is a basis for that concern."
Franzini, who served under seven governors, was known for being bipartisan. Brown, who is currently appointments counsel for the governor, worked for Chris Christie in the U.S. Attorney's Office and is a friend of the governor and his wife.
One theory is that the Brown appointment shows Christie is getting ready for re-election in 2013, when he'd likely want to highlight a pro-business agenda that has EDA as an important cog. Putting Brown, who he is close to, in the top spot would show that economic development remains important to the governor's agenda.
Christie said in prepared remarks he is confident Brown "will lead the EDA with her honest, open and effective style."
A handle on scandal
One impact of the Hamilton scandal: it's taking longer to get business done at town hall, according to two sources who do work with the township.
In June, Mayor John Bencivengo was indicted by a federal grand jury on five counts, including extortion, attempted extortion and money laundering, according to published reports. Bencivengo has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
"The reality is that things are moving more slowly than they normally have," a real estate source told Grapevine. "But I don't think it's a long-term problem. The professional staff and elected officials are painfully aware of the image that the town has, and the perception it gives to businesses. Nobody wants to see this last any longer than it absolutely has to."
A switch at utilities association
Karen Alexander is winding down her tenure as president and CEO of the New Jersey Utilities Association. Alexander confirmed that she informed the board of her intention to leave about a month ago. She plans to leave by the end of the year.
Alexander joined the association six years ago. She said the job has been "if not the most rewarding, probably close to the most rewarding job I've had in my career." She said utilities are critical to the health and well being of the state, but she said they are often not fully understood by the public.
Alexander said she's looking at a variety of opportunities for her next chapter.
"I literally don't know," she said. "I'm at a stage in life where I think I've developed a strong enough track record to do some different things. So that's what I'm trying to figure out."
Alexander hasn't set a date yet for her departure. Her plan for now is to help with the transition to her successor, though she said she could leave sooner if her next opportunity requires it.
Singing praise over Buffett bar
Maybe Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville should be coming to Morristown, instead of Atlantic City.
Grapevine hears much of the deal was worked out in Morristown, where Jon Hanson has his office. Hanson, as chair of the governor's commission on sports and gaming, worked with Morris Bailey to help the Resorts owner get a Margaritaville — with a casino, beach bar, retail and other amenities — on the Atlantic City boardwalk, according to a source.
Hanson also kept Christie updated, first showing the governor renderings of the bar and restaurant project in a parking lot as Christie was arriving at an event, the source said. Hanson also has been working to secure Casino Reinvestment Development Authority funding for the project.
"The deal would not have been consummated without those two old pros working things out," the source said about Hanson and Bailey.
No casino operations
Capital Health's new Hopewell facility may be experiencing typical growing pains associated with opening a new facility, but executives have gotten a good laugh at some of the rumors they've heard about the hospital.
Executive Vice President and COO Larry DiSanto said his favorite rumor was that Capital Health was going to turn the facility off I-95 into a casino.
"We're not putting slot machines in the lobby," DiSanto said.
Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Sharon Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A headline in the print edition referred to the utilities association as an authority. It has been corrected above.