Diane Solomon Confirmation Moves Along

Senate panel puts no questions to wife of former BPU president before unanimously approving nomination

It took only two minutes for the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday to advise and consent to the nomination of Diane Solomon to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, an agency once led by her husband at the outset of the Christie administration.

Her nomination won unanimous approval from the panel, which failed to ask her any questions, other than a light-hearted query from the chairman of the committee, Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Bergen).

“I’m assuming you thought the job was great when your husband had it,’’ Scutari told Solomon. “He was president though,’’ she replied.

Her husband, Lee Solomon, a close ally of Gov. Chris Christie forged a deep friendship with the governor when both worked as U.S. Attorneys. Solomon left the agency to return to serve as a judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey, and is often speculated as a potential nominee to the state Supreme Court.

In her brief opening remarks, Diane Solomon cited her experience on the South Jersey Transportation Authority as making her qualified to the $123,500 a year post. The BPU oversees the state’s gas, electric, water, and cable telecommunications companies, among other things, a sector facing enormous challenges in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other recent extreme weather.

“Protecting the interests of ratepayers while being sensitive to New Jersey’s environmental and economic needs require careful though and sound judgment and I trust that I bring those qualities to the board,” Diane Solomon said.

Solomon, a Haddonfield resident, is an official with the United States Tennis Association. She would fill the position that opened up when former BPU Commissioner Nicholas Asselta left the agency to take a job with Aqua America, a water utility that operates in New Jersey and other states and is regulated by the BPU.

She is expected to be confirmed by the Senate when it convenes on Thursday. Her nomination, however, raised concerns from some critics of the BPU, an agency regarded by many as slow-footed in making decisions dealing with major infrastructure issues affecting the state’s utilities.

The nomination also reinforces the notion that the agency is a dumping ground for politically connected insiders. Three of the four current commissioners all have political connections, other than Hanna. Asselta was a former assemblyman and senator in the Legislature.

Solomon joins the BPU at a time of great uncertainty. Christie nominated its president, Bob Hanna, who also worked with Christie in the U.S. Attorney’s office, for a position on the New Jersey Supreme Court. The nomination has not moved forward because of a partisan dispute between the Democrat-controlled Legislature and the Christie administration.