Acting Human Services commissioner steps down

Eight months after Gov. Jon Corzine plucked him from relative obscurity to run the largest department in state government, the acting commissioner of Human Services abruptly resigned today amid growing concern about his fitness for the job.

Clarke Bruno faced what looked to be a tense confirmation hearing Monday before a Senate panel that already had questioned his ability to lead one of the most complicated and controversial of state agencies.

Today Corzine accepted Bruno’s resignation, elevated Bruno’s deputy, Jennifer Velez, to the cabinet-level position, and found Bruno a soft landing. Bruno was named a senior attorney under Ken Zimmerman, the governor’s chief counsel – a position insiders said fit better with Bruno’s last job as counsel for the New York City Department of Homeless Services.

In his resignation letter, Bruno, 47, told Corzine he has “been proud to serve as your nominee to lead the New Jersey Department of Human Services. I regret to inform you that for personal reasons, I am now submitting my resignation as Acting Commissioner of the Department effective February 2, 2007. I have great respect for you and your administration and hope that I may have the chance to serve you in some other capacity.”

In chosing Bruno, Corzine had bypassed more than a half-dozen candidates, including career Human Services veterans and others who had worked in the fields of developmental disabilities and mental health. One of the candidates was Velez.

Velez, the new nominee, got her start in Gov. Christie Whitman’s counsel office a decade ago and helped draft laws that benefited homeless children and families without health insurance.

This is from the Star-Ledger writer Susan K. Livio.