BY TOM HESTER SR.
Governor-elect Chris Christie Thursday announced the appointment of four political confidants who will play key roles in the inner circle of his administration.
Former state senator Richard Bagger of Westfield will be Christie's chief of staff, Bill Stepien, Christie's former campaign manager, will be deputy chief of staff, Jeff Chiesa will be chief counsel to the governor and Kevin O'Dowd of New Brunswick will be deputy chief counsel.
Christie said he intends to give Bagger and Chiesa the power to do their jobs.
"There is no doubt that we have a great deal of work ahead of us when our state is facing an ever increasing deficit and an unemployment rate we most defeat,'' Christie said. "I am confident that with the team I am beginning to assemble we are going to be able to do the work the people of New Jersey sent us to Trenton to do.''Christie said, "Rich Bagger brings a wealth of outside experience, knowledge, respect from both sides of the aisle, and a shared belief that we must run Trenton differently if we're going to get results. Rich innately knows that we have to throw out the old way of doing things if we're going to be able to successfully execute our vision."
Christie said he may announce more appointments next week, possibly cabinet members. He said he has yet to decide the salaries for the four appointees.
Bagger confirmed he will be taking a pay cut from his position as senior vice president of Worldwide Public Affairs for the drugmaker Pfizer but he called the chance to run the governor's office, "the opportunity of a lifetime.''
Bagger said he foresees a cabinet and governor's staff that will be "ready to tackle the many challenges we currently face. We will assemble a team that is ready and willing to make the changes needed and tackle the tough issues head-on in order to get the results New Jersey desperately needs."
Bagger has served in a series of corporate roles since joining Pfizer in 1993. Earlier in his career, Bagger was assistant general counsel of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey and practiced law with Newark-based McCarter & English.
He served 10 years in the Assembly, where he was chairman of the Appropriations Committee. In 2001, he was elected to the state Senate and served there until 2003. Before his election to the legislature, he was a mayor and councilman in Westfield. He received a degree from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and a law degree from Rutgers University Law School.
Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Morris) commented on Bagger's appointment.
"Richard Bagger is an outstanding choice as chief of staff and will be of invaluable assistance as Governor-elect Christie tries to fix New Jersey's complex economic problems. His diverse background in both the public and private sectors make him an important asset. He is a man of high character, who possesses superior intellect and integrity. Richard is well-respected on both sides of the aisle and knows how to work with various constituencies in accomplishing his objectives. His business savvy will also be a great help in dealing with New Jersey's economic challenges.''
Prior to guiding Christie's campaign, Stepien worked as national field director and regional campaign manager for U.S. Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign. Earlier in the 2008 presidential campaign cycle, Stepien was former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani's national field director.
Stepien has also worked as the Republican National Committee's 72-Hour director and as President George W. Bush's New Hampshire political director in his 2004 re-election campaign. He also successfully managed now state Sen. Bill Baroni's (R-Mercer) campaign for the Assembly in 2003 and worked in the legislative office of state Sen, Anthony Bucco (R-morris). A New Jersey native, Stepien received his degree from Rutgers.
Chiesa is currently a partner in the litigation department at Wolff & Samson. Prior to joining the law firm, Chiesa worked in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark from 2002 - 2009, last serving as the executive assistant U.S. Attorney Christie. He also served as counsel to the U.S. attorney and as the chief of the Public Protection Unit.
Chiesa was managed the Criminal, Civil, Appeals and Special Prosecutions divisions. As a unit chief, he supervised a group of assistant U.S. attorneys primarily responsible for the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases involving bank robbery, child pornography, human trafficking and identity theft. He received his degree at Notre Dame and his law degree at Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law.
O'Dowd currently serves as the chief of the Securities and Healthcare Fraud Unit in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark. Over the course of the last seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney, O'Dowd has prosecuted various crimes ranging from complex healthcare, securities and financial fraud matters to international child pornography distribution, cyber and narcotics prosecutions.
Prior to joining the U.S. Attorney's Office, O'Dowd spent five years serving as both a New Jersey deputy attorney general and an assistant counsel to Republican Gov. Christie Whitman. He received his degree at The Catholic University of America and his law degree at St. John's University School of Law.