New Jersey Gov.-elect Chris Christie on Thursday nominated a former New York City politician as treasurer and defended the diversity of his other Cabinet picks, which have largely been white men.
Christie tapped Andrew Eristoff, 46, of Manhattan for the key position — considered widely to be the most important Cabinet position given the state's fiscal crisis — as the incoming Republican governor looks to close a 2011 budget deficit that some estimate as high as $10 billion.
"The state of New Jersey is a failing business," Christie said, adding that Eristoff "brings with him a wealth of experience."
When asked about the fact that the majority of his picks were white men, Christie said he would consider race, gender and ethnicity in selecting staff but not first and foremost.
"I'm not going to take a Noah's ark-approach to filling my cabinet," Christie said. "I'm not going to just look at the class picture and decide what's missing."
"I'm going to look to the best possible people I can find. Diversity is one of the factors that you consider in doing that," he added.
In addition to Eristoff, his Cabinet picks to oversee homeland security, education, transportation and the environment have all been white men. His lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, will also serve as Secretary of State and career prosecutor Paula Dow, who is black, has been nominated for Attorney General.
Eristoff was New York State Tax Commissioner under Gov. George Pataki, overseeing the nation's second-largest state revenue administration. Before that he worked under New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the city's Commissioner of Finance.
He is a former Manhattan GOP chairman and a former member of the New York City Council, which he served on for six years. He lost a run for state Senate in 2002.
Eristoff must be confirmed by the state Senate and must move to New Jersey.
"This is just an incredible opportunity to serve at the front lines of what I believe will be a nationally significant movement to restructure and reform state government as we know it," Eristoff said at a news conference.
The economy played a large role in Christie's victory over Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine. New Jersey, which has the highest property taxes in the nation — the average homeowner pays more than $7,000 a year — saw it's tax burden rise along with the unemployment rate over the past four years.
"We are the most overtaxed state in America," Christie said, adding that for every dollar New Jersey gives the federal government, it sees only 68 cents back — a fact Christie recently pointed out to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after he heard Schwarzenegger complain about getting 79 cents back on the dollar.
"I sent Gov. Schwarzenegger a note congratulating him on 79 cents, since we get 68," Christie said.
Christie also named two key economic posts on Thursday, choosing Bob Grady as chairman of the newly created Council of Economic Advisors and Al Koeppe as chairman of the state Economic Development Authority — a position Koeppe held previously under Gov. Jim McGreevey.
Christie, who has been adamant that he will not raise taxes to balance the budget, is due to present his 2011 budget in March but has already said that state won't be able to make payroll by then if revenue stays flat and cuts are not made.
He has asked his transition team to prepare to cut state spending as much as 25 percent next year.