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Murphy names new watchdog to look out for government abuse in New Jersey

NJ.com logo NJ.com 1/24/2020 By Matt Arco, nj.com
a man wearing a suit and tie: Gov. Phil Murphy speaks at his office in Trenton last year. © Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media/Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media/nj.com/TNS Gov. Phil Murphy speaks at his office in Trenton last year.

Gov. Phil Murphy has picked a longtime affordable housing advocate to watch over state and local governments in New Jersey and make sure taxpayers aren’t being fleeced.

Murphy announced Thursday he is nominating Kevin Walsh, a civil rights attorney who is executive director of the Fair Share Housing Center, to become the next state comptroller.

A comptroller is essentially a watchdog, keeping an eye out for fraud, abuse, and waste at all levels of government in the state.

Murphy said Walsh is a good fit after having spent two decades advocating to make sure towns across New Jersey build affordable housing — a complicated and controversial issue that is often tied up in the courts.

“I know not all of the fights Kevin has taken on throughout his career have been politically popular, but they were the right fights,” Murphy said during a news conference in Newark. “And that’s exactly why he will make a strong comptroller.”

“With Kevin in the Comptroller’s Office, the people of New Jersey will have someone they can trust to call out the cheats,” the Democratic governor added.

Murphy said Walsh will begin serving as acting comptroller on Monday. To officially become comptroller — for a six-year term — Walsh must still be approved by the state Senate.

Walsh, who lives in Merchantsville in Camden County, pledged to serve with integrity, impartiality, independence, and with “an eager and enthusiastic commitment to making New Jersey’s agencies, counties, and municipalities more efficient, more effective and more accountable.”

Walsh will succeed Phil Degnan, who spent four years as comptroller but recently left to become a state Superior Court judge.

Degnan was the one who wrote last year’s scathing report criticizing how the state’s Economic Development Authority handed out billions in corporate tax incentives. Murphy launched a task force to examine the issue and has since pushed to revamp the program, despite pushback from some top state lawmakers in his own party.

Before his job as a housing advocate, Walsh was counsel to New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, a job in which he advocated to get the state to abolish the practice in 2007.

Former state Comptroller Matthew Boxer said Walsh “has all the skills required” to be successful in his new role.

State Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, called Walsh “a champion for equal rights and government accountability.”

But some Republicans weren’t happy. State Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, said Walsh has been “successful at fighting to litter the state with high density housing” and accused him of “bullying and name-calling against mayors, lawmakers, local officials, and even me.”

Assembly Majority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said Walsh’s housing group “has been responsible for hundreds of costly lawsuits resulting in the courts dictating what we do in our towns and making the system a mess and expensive.”

Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01.

Matt Arco may be reached at marco@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewArco or Facebook.

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