New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio said yesterday he chose former associate state treasurer Richard Wright as his new chief of staff.

Wright succeeds Joseph Salema, who resigned as Florio's top adviser on Tuesday. Salema said he resigned because he did not want to become a political liability for the governor during his re-election campaign this year.

Salema has been subpoenaed in a recent federal investigation surrounding a $2.9 billion New Jersey Turnpike Authority bond refunding last year. Federal investigators have also subpoenaed a number of Wall Street firms, including Merrill Lynch & Co.

In his previous position with the state treasury, Wright focused mainly on economic development and job growth in New Jersey. He joined the state treasurer's office in January of 1991.

"We're glad to have Rick aboad," said Jon Shure, spokesman for the governor. "He has worked with the governor on a number of important policy decisions, especially in economic development, that made him a perfect choice for the post."

A graduate of Princeton University who played on the same basketball team there as U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., Wright has had a diverse career.

In 1972, Wright served as campaign manager for Carol Bellamy's run for the U.S. Senate. In 1975 through 1976, he served as executive director of Amnesty International.

From 1978 to 1981, Wright worked in the administration of President Jimmy Carter as an assistant to James Schlesinger, secretary of energy.

At the same time, Florio has asked his re-election campaign manager, James Fox, to serve as his deputy chief of staff, effective today. Fox worked on Florio's successful campaign in 1990 and served as depurty chief of staff until joining the re-election team.

James Andrews will replace Fox as Florio's campaign manager.

The federal investigation into the state's bond work has taken its toll. In addition to Salema's departure, three bankers at Merrill Lynch have been put on paid leave.

Michael Baumrin, Marsha Eisenberg, and Dennis Boyle, three managing directors at Merrill Lynch & Co., were placed on administrative leave because of alleged "trading irregularities" surrounding a joint account with Armacon Securities, a securities firm in which Salema has an ownership stake.

Merrill Lynch served as senior underwriter for the largest portion of the refunding sale.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the New Jersey state treasurer's office, former Treasurer Douglas Berman, and First Boston Corp. have also confirmed that they have been subpoenaed as part of this investigation.

Armacon is also owned by Salema's partner, Nicholas Rudi, a former Camden County chief. Since the federal investigation was publicly disclosed, Salema has repeatedly said his interest in the firm was placed in a blind trust when he joined Florio's administration.

Immediately following the announcement of the federal investigation, Florio restricted negotiated bond sales for the state and its authorities. The governor said the almost total ban on negotiated sales is unrelated to the federal investigation.

Florio proposed the outlined of such a reform in January.

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