Governor Phil Murphy

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Senior Staff

Photo: George Helmy Portrait

George Helmy

Chief of Staff

George Helmy serves as Chief of Staff to the Governor.

A native of Jersey City, Helmy served as State Director to U.S. Senator Cory Booker for three years, serving on the Senator's senior staff and overseeing the day-to-day operations of his New Jersey offices. Prior to serving as State Director, he worked as Senator Booker’s state office Deputy Chief of Staff for two years. Prior to serving in Senator Booker’s office, he worked in the private sector with two Fortune 100 companies and served as an aide to the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, handling issues such as gun safety and financial affairs.

Helmy currently lives in Morris County with his wife and two children. He received his Bachelors of Arts from Rutgers University and a Master’s degree from Harvard University.



Parimal Garg

Parimal Garg

Chief Counsel

Parimal Garg serves as Chief Counsel.

Previously, he served as a Senior Policy Advisor during the gubernatorial campaign, helping to formulate the campaign’s substantive positions. Prior to joining the campaign in August 2016, he clerked for New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. He previously worked as an attorney at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP in Washington, DC, where his practice focused on antitrust matters, financial investigations, and appellate arguments.

Garg received his B.A. from Georgetown University, magna cum laude, and J.D. from Harvard Law School, cum laude.

Zakiya Smith-Ellis

Zakiya Smith-Ellis

Chief Policy Advisor

Zakiya Smith Ellis serves as Chief Policy Advisor to Governor Phil Murphy where she is responsible for developing and directing the Governor’s policy initiatives in coordination with the Cabinet.

Previously Dr. Ellis served as New Jersey’s Secretary of Higher Education, where she was responsible for policy development and coordination of higher education activities for the state. In this role, she led the development of a student-focused state plan for higher education featuring a vision for a student bill of rights, the reform of the state’s funding methodology for public institutions of higher education, and the design of the state’s efforts to expand college affordability through tuition-free promises to low-income students.  

Prior to her work in New Jersey state government, she led the DC office of Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest foundation focused solely on higher education. At Lumina she led work to advance federal policy to increase attainment and funded projects to develop new postsecondary finance models, focusing on issues of affordability.

Dr. Ellis has also worked in the Obama administration as a Senior Advisor for Education at the White House Domestic Policy Council and as a senior adviser at the U. S. Department of Education. Earlier in her career she authored reports on the ability of low- and moderate- income students to access, afford, and complete college while on staff at the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance.

Dr. Ellis holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and secondary education from Vanderbilt University, a master’s degree in education policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated with distinction for both written dissertation and oral defense.

Mahen Gunaratna

Mahen Gunaratna

Director of Communications

Mahen Gunaratna serves as Governor Murphy's Communications Director, leading and managing the Governor's communications team.

He previously served as Deputy Communications Director to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and, prior to that, worked as the Mayor’s Research Director and as an aide to his mayoral campaign.

In 2016, he served as Florida Communications Director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign during the general election and as Florida Press Secretary and Connecticut Press Secretary during the primary. In 2012, he worked as New Mexico and Arizona Communications Director for Obama for America, serving as the President’s regional spokesman for the Southwest.

He is a former Communications Director to Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL) and Press Secretary to Congressman Kendrick Meek (D-FL). In 2010, served as Research Director to Congressman Meek’s campaign for U.S. Senate.

Mahen is a graduate of Georgetown University.

Photo: Alyana Alfaro

Alyana Alfaro

Press Secretary

Alyana Alfaro Post serves as Press Secretary to the Governor.

Previously, Alyana served as Deputy Press Secretary and Press Aide to the Governor. From 2015 to 2017, Alyana served as a politics reporter for Observer New Jersey, covering local, state, and national politics in the Garden State. She previously served as a freelance journalist and as Specialty Editor for the monthly medical journal Federal Practitioner. Alyana received her bachelor’s degree from Seton Hall University and a Masters of Arts in Multimedia Journalism from New York University. She currently resides in Plainsboro with her husband.

Daniel Bryan

Daniel Bryan

Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications

Daniel Bryan serves as Governor Murphy’s Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications.

Daniel began the administration serving as the Governor’s Press Secretary and Deputy Communications Director.

Daniel was Chief of Staff to the City of Hoboken from 2009 to 2015. 

After working on the Murphy for Governor campaign as a Senior Advisor for Communications and Political Outreach, a role which included spearheading the campaign’s digital outreach operations, he served as Communications Director for Transition2018, Governor Murphy’s gubernatorial transition committee. 

A graduate of Don Bosco Prep and the University of Scranton, Daniel grew up in Ringwood, New Jersey. He currently resides in Maplewood with his wife Christin and two daughters.

Kate McDonnell

Kate McDonnell

Senior Deputy Chief Counsel

Kate McDonnell serves as Senior Deputy Chief Counsel.

Previously,  she served as General Counsel to the Assembly Majority Office, a position she has held for eight years. Prior to becoming General Counsel, she served as an Associate General Counsel in the Majority Office, where she worked in a variety of policy areas.

McDonnell is a magna cum laude graduate from the University of Notre Dame and holds both a J.D. from the Rutgers School of Law – Camden and a Master’s Degree from Rutgers – New Brunswick’s Bloustein School of Policy and Planning. 

photo: Official portrait of Noreen Giblin

Noreen Giblin

Deputy Chief Counsel
Director of Authorities

 photo:Lisa Almeida

Lisa Almeida

Deputy Chief Counsel

Previously, she served as Senior Counsel, advising the Governor on consumer affairs, environment, and energy matters. Prior to joining Counsel’s Office, Lisa focused on environmental litigation and policy. She worked for the Environmental Practice Group of the Division of Law within the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General for many years with an emphasis on environmental enforcement litigation, solid waste licensing, and Superstorm Sandy recovery. She graduated from Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware and from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.

Stephanie Lagos

Stephanie Lagos

Chief of Staff to First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy

Stephanie Lagos serves as Chief of Staff to First Lady Tammy Snyder Murphy.

Previously, she was a Senior Policy Advisory to the Murphy for Governor campaign. Prior to that, she served as Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director to Assemblyman Schaer.

Stephanie holds a Master’s of Science in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Biology, Ecology, and Environmental Science from Christopher Newport University. She served for over two years in the United States Peace Corps working on Environmental Sustainability and Diplomacy.

Deborah Cornavaca

Deborah Cornavaca

Deputy Chief of Staff of Outreach

Deborah previously served as a statewide organizing expert at the New Jersey Education Association. She specializes in building statewide campaigns and coalition building, with educators, advocacy organizations, parents, faith-based leaders, and community members. Deborah's work includes both issue and electoral campaigns, ranging from community schools to the gubernatorial race. Deborah has worked as a community organizer and lobbyist for nearly two decades in New Jersey, including as parent advocate in her hometown, NJEA Associate Director of Government Relations, and Legislative Director of New Jersey Working Families.

Deborah graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College, and holds a masters and Ph.D. from UCLA in Anthropological Archaeology with a specialization in Latin American cultures prior to Spanish contact, where she was a Fulbright scholar.

Joe Kelley

Joe Kelley

Deputy Chief of Staff for Economic Growth

Mr. Kelley manages economic affairs for the Governor's Office. In this role, he oversees major policy initiatives, manages large economic development projects, and works with the Governor on marketing the state to businesses around the world. Since joining the Murphy Administration, Mr. Kelley has served as the Governor’s point person for several critical issues, including the economic restart and recovery from Covid-19; the American Dream development; statewide transit oriented development; corporate relations; and foreign direct investment, including the Governor’s trips to Germany, Israel, and India, which have brought over 1200 jobs to NJ.

Mr. Kelley was a Deputy Campaign Manager and Finance Director for the 'Murphy for Governor' campaign. He previously owned and operated a public affairs consultancy, working with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the 2012 Democratic Convention Host Committee, and NARAL Pro-Choice America, among others. In 2013, he was appointed by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to midtown Manhattan’s Community Board, a volunteer body with oversight of zoning, land use, liquor licensing, and other economic development issues. Mr. Kelley grew up in Morristown, NJ, and is a graduate of Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

photo: Tim Hillmann Portrait

Tim Hillmann

Deputy Chief of Staff for Intergovernmental Affairs and Appointments

Tim Hillmann serves as Governor Murphy’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Intergovernmental Affairs and Appointments 

Previously, Tim served as the Governor’s Director of Appointments. Prior to joining the Murphy Administration in 2019, he spent nine years on the staff of Senator Bob Menendez, rising to the position of Deputy State Director. 

He is a graduate of Fordham University and resides in Metuchen with his wife Catherine, son Owen, and dog Gus.

photo: Paulina Banasiak

Paulina Banasiak

Acting Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs

Paulina Banasiak serves as Acting Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs. 

Previously, Paulina served as the Director of Legislative Affairs. Prior to joining the Murphy Administration in 2018 she was Assemblyman Mukherji’s Chief of Staff and the  Director of Legislation for Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. 

Paulina is an immigrant from Poland who currently resides in Burlington County. She received her Bachelors in Psychology from Montclair State University and her Masters in Social Work from Rutgers University.