By Pam Hersh
Anthony “Skip” Cimino, who last year assumed the job of executive director of the New Jersey State Assembly Majority Office, recently told me he was a “failure.” Having worked with him for decades in our various intersecting professional and volunteer jobs in Mercer County, I was stunned to hear the word “failure” and “Skip” in the same sentence.
The 72-year-old political leader from Hamilton Township went on to clarify his self- characterization. “I have tried several times to succeed at retiring, but always have failed miserably.”
His latest defeat in the retirement arena came a few years ago, after he left his job as CEO of the RWJ University Hospital in Hamilton.
“Everyone thought that this retirement effort would stick,” he said.
But before he even had time to complete any retirement chores, like cleaning out a closet, Skip accepted a position as a partner in the Kaufman Zita Public Affairs Group.
And, then, came a most appealing anti-retirement weapon – an opportunity to be in middle of the action-packed political environment of New Jersey. As executive director for the Assembly Majority office, he would be in a position to help elected officials make a positive impact on the lives of all New Jersey residents.
Then, Assembly Speaker-elect (now Speaker) Craig Coughlin made the decision to recruit Skip.
“I am proud that someone with Skip’s experience in the public and private sectors will lead the Assembly Majority Office during this critical time,” Coughlin said. “Skip’s depth of knowledge will be a tremendous asset for our caucus and for our state.”
Skip described his first year on the job as that of “a facilitator” among members of the Assembly Majority, and between the Assembly Majority and the various political constituencies, including the general public, the Assembly Minority, the New Jersey Senate and the Governor’s Office.
“You need to have good listening skills, be patient, have integrity and keep your word.”
Those skills have been evident in Skip’s execution of all of his professional/political jobs, as well as his leadership volunteer roles. The jobs have included:
- Mercer County Freeholder, including freeholder board president
- NJ Assembly Representative from the 14th Legislative District
- Commissioner of personnel in the Florio Administration
- Owner and operator of a family retail business
- President of civil engineering firm Schoor DePalma/CMX Inc.
- President and chief executive officer of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Hamilton
- Partner at the Kaufman Zita Public Affairs Group
- Mercer County Community College Board trustee, including board chair
- Princeton Area Community Foundation (PACF) board member, including board chair
- Hamilton Township School Board member, including board president
“At this juncture, all of these experiences – including owning a family carpet business – have given me the ability to assess legislation; not just as a single issue, but within the context of the big picture. I try to offer recommendations and guidance to people who have to make the decisions, as they look to write laws for the state of New Jersey….”
He concluded New Jersey’s biggest problem these days is a fiscal one. And he hopes he can muster the wisdom of Solomon and the golden touch of Midas to help the state navigate the financial challenges. “…One thing I know for certain is that we must retain the wealth we have, while attracting new wealth. The strategy of emphasizing New Jersey as a leader in innovation is a good one. New Jersey used to be the hub of innovation in America. We need to gain that innovation economy platform and reputation once again.”
One of Skip’s most important accomplishments – in his opinion and mine – however, has nothing to do with a big picture innovation project, but rather a project focused on the small: young kids.
When he was an assemblyman (1988-92), Skip introduced the nation’s first bicycle helmet law for children 14 years and younger, a policy now used in 21 states. He succeeded thanks to common sense, perseverance and listening to his constituents.
“The legislative process, often maligned, worked in the case of the helmet law. It started with a Hamilton Township (Mercerville) mom and ended with a law – after, of course, a few threats of derailment. My staff initially told me I was crazy to pursue this. But I kept at it, undeterred, because of comments from constituents; like one letter I got from a mother, who felt that her son would likely be alive if he had been required to wear a helmet,” Skip said.
As I watch my daredevil grandkids each summer bring their bikes and scooters – and accompanying helmets – out of storage, I am exceedingly thankful Skip Cimino has succeeded at failing to retire.