The commissioner of the state Department of Banking and Insurance is not typically a high-profile role in a gubernatorial administration in New Jersey. But Gov.-elect Phil Murphy has pledged to create a state-run public bank, making the position one of new importance in the still-forming Murphy cabinet.
Murphy held a news conference in Trenton yesterday to formally introduce Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-Bergen) as his selection to lead the department that oversees New Jersey’s banking, insurance, and real-estate industries. In addition to highlighting the envisioned public bank, Murphy stressed the need to have a strong leader at the helm of the agency at a time when Republican leaders in Washington, D.C. have been pushing major changes to health-insurance rules and consumer-financial protections.
“Marlene understands how government works, and the importance of government having the backs of the residents it serves,” he said.
First Hispanic to lead agency
Caride, a Ridgefield Park resident, was elected to the Assembly in 2011, and currently serves on the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. If confirmed by the Senate, she would become the first ever Hispanic to serve as commissioner of the agency that’s commonly referred to as DOBI, continuing a trend of diversity that has so far been the hallmark of the Democratic governor-elect’s growing cabinet. He has already selected several other women, including women of color to serve in key cabinet roles, and his attorney general nominee would be the first ever South Asian to hold that position in New Jersey.
“I am humbled, and I am proud, of the trust and friendship that our Gov.-elect Murphy has placed in me,” Caride said. Her selection won praise yesterday from fellow lawmakers, as well as representatives of both the banking and insurance industries.
Based in Trenton, the Department of Banking and Insurance regulates more than 15,000 mortgage-loan originators, over 1,400 insurance companies, 67 state-chartered banks, and 90,000 real-estate licenses. The agency also investigates thousands of consumer complaints against banking, insurance and real-estate companies operating in New Jersey. The current commissioner of the agency is Richard Badolato, an attorney from Verona.
Murphy is planning to add to DOBI’s portfolio by creating a state-run public bank which is something that only one other state in the country, North Dakota, currently has. Under Murphy’s plan, the institution would take state-government funds deposited in accounts with large commercial banks, including those based overseas, and instead use them to back low-interest loans that would serve the public’s interest in New Jersey — including student debt, infrastructure investments, and small-business lending.
No background in banking
While Caride doesn’t have a background in banking, she said she will bring her experiences as a consumer and attorney to head up the agency that will be charged with establishing the state’s public bank. Caride said her professional background will be relevant to the department’s other duties, including those related to the insurance and real-estate industries.
“I’ve dealt with short sales that had to deal directly with the mortgage companies, foreclosures, in my practice I did personal injury, so I’ve dealt with insurance companies from those angles,” Caride said.
She also spoke about her own personal background and the influence of her Cuban-immigrant parents. “They held two jobs, three jobs, learned the language, started a business, purchased a home, sent my brother to medical school, and sent me to law school,” Caride said. “They are the perfect example of the American dream.”
“That’s what we are here to do, to make sure that every resident of New Jersey can accomplish the goal of the American dream,” she said.
Murphy said that Republican-led efforts to weaken the federal Affordable Care Act, and to undermine agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that are designed to protect individuals against unscrupulous banks, mortgage companies and other large financial institutions, are elevating the importance of the role of a state-level banking and insurance regulator.
Murphy: We ‘need a watchdog’
“New Jerseyans need a watchdog at the Department of Banking and Insurance to look out for them, to ensure their health-insurance policy is worth the paper it’s printed on, (and) to ensure the banks where they save for their futures or where our small businesses go to grow our economy are stable and viable,” Murphy said. “Marlene Caride will be that watchdog.”
Caride has represented the 36th District covering portions of Bergen and Passaic counties in the Assembly since 2012. She is also Ridgefield’s municipal prosecutor, the zoning board attorney in South Hackensack, and a principal in the Gonzalez & Caride law firm in Union City.
Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo (D-Bergen) used the words “intellect,” “passion” and “drive” to describe his district running mate, Caride. “While she will be missed in Bergen County, the entire state will now have the benefit of her talent,” said Sarlo, who is also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a panel that will be charged with giving the Caride nomination a first round of scrutiny.
“Marlene has been a great advocate for working class New Jerseyans during her time in the Assembly, and I know she will take that commitment to the Murphy administration, too,” said Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Essex).
Michael Affuso, executive vice president of the New Jersey Bankers Association, said he has worked on issues with Caride during her time as a lawmaker and he believes she is a “fine choice” to lead DOBI. “She certainly has some subject-matter expertise,” Affuso said. “I think she comes to it well-armed with some really good credentials.”
“I know from working with her she’s very intelligent and she’s very diligent . . . she’ll do a good job,” he said.
Ward Sanders, president and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Health Plans, which represents health insurers, described Caride as “thoughtful” and “fair.”
“Her background as an attorney, a member of the key committee on health insurance and as a small-business owner will serve her well as the chief regulator for insurance,” Sanders said. “We applaud her nomination and wish her well.”