Governor Phil Murphy

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. 

McKenzie Wilson

Deputy Chief Counsel

McKenzie Wilson serves as Deputy Chief Counsel.

Previously, Wilson worked as an attorney at Proskauer Rose LLP, where she focused on employment counseling and litigation.

Prior to entering private practice, she clerked for Chief Justice Stuart Rabner of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Wilson received her B.A. from the George Washington University, summa cum laude, and J.D. from Seton Hall Law School, magna cum laude.

Brian T. Wilton

Brian T. Wilton

Deputy Chief Counsel
Director of Authorities

Brian T. Wilton serves as Deputy Chief Counsel of the Authorities Unit, which provides oversight of the governance and operations of more than 50 independent State and bi-state agencies on behalf of the Governor. 

Prior to joining state government, Brian was a practicing civil litigation attorney and municipal prosecutor. In addition to legal practice, he served as a councilman and Mayor in the Borough of Lake Como from 2005 until 2018. In conjunction with his municipal service Wilton was an active member of the New Jersey League of Municipalities legislative committee. 

He holds a B.A. in History with a minor in Political Science from the University of Scranton and a J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law. 

Photo of Noren Giblin

Noreen Giblin

Cabinet Secretary

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.

Justin Braz

Justin Braz

Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs

Justin Braz serves as Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs.

Previously, he served as Labor Director for Victory 2017 and was Chief of Staff to Assembly Budget Chairman Gary S. Schaer from 2013 until August 2017. He also was the New Jersey Political Coordinator for 1199 SEIU and Chief of Staff to Assemblywoman Annette Quijano.

Justin is a national board member and founding member of the New Jersey Chapter of the New Leaders Council, a leadership and professional development organization. He is a graduate of Penn State University.

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.

Mike Delamater

Mike Delamater

Deputy Chief of Staff for Intergovernmental Affairs

Michael DeLamater serves as Deputy Chief of Staff for  Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement.  Prior to this position, he served in the Murphy administration as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Previously, he served as a Senior Advisor on the Murphy for Governor campaign as well as a variety of local campaigns.  In addition he was Legislative Director for then Assemblyman Joe Lagana and, prior to that, a Legislative Aide for Assemblymembers Connie Wagner and Tim Eustace

Michael is a graduate of Rutgers University and is a resident of Paramus, NJ.