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NJ's Acting Ed Commissioner Moves Around Confirmation Block

Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Jersey’s acting Commissioner of Education, whose nomination to the post has been blocked, has found a way around that hurdle — he has established a residential address outside of Essex County.

Governor Chris Christie nominated Christopher Cerf last year, but the confirmation hearings have been held up by Senator Ron Rice (D-Newark). State senators have what is called “senatorial courtesy” to block the appointment of any statewide official who lives in their district.

That blockage caused a dust-up with Governor Christie, who refuses to make any Essex County judicial appointments in retaliation. That, in turn, has caused a backlog in the courts that has been widely criticized by lawyers, judges and court staff.

Cerf has owned a home in Montclair, located in Essex County, since 1991, but his recent renomination papers — the third time around — listed his address as Montgomery located in Somerset County.

"Commissioner Cerf has established residency in Somerset County to allow him to shorten his commute and be closer to Trenton," according to his spokesman, Justin Barra.

Cerf reportedly continues to own his Montclair home and has not put it up for sale.

As acting commissioner, he has all the powers of the office except for one: he is unable to speak before the legislature.

Cerf has run into controversy a few times in his career as he moved between private, for-profit education companies and the public sector. He has always said any suspicions directed at him have been unfair characterizations and that his primary concern has always been to improve public education for all children.

Rice says he is blocking Cerf because of questions he has about the acting commissioner’s connections to a for-profit education company that contracts with Newark Public Schools.

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