Edward J. McBride Jr., Gov. Corzine's new chief of staff, is part South Philly guy and part policy wonk, with a quick wit, kind smile, and keen political sense.

McBride, 49, who lives with his wife, Betsy, and two teenage sons in Pennsauken, takes over a key position in a Democratic administration facing its most difficult challenge: a troubled economy that has created a needy populace while the state struggles with a budget deficit.

He succeeds Lisa Jackson, whom President-elect Barack Obama selected this month to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

Those who know McBride, who is respected by members of both parties, say he is a straight shooter who has the rare ability to deliver bad news with kindness.

"I'm hoping not to have to use that skill too much," he said with a knowing smile. But he fears he will.

In promoting McBride from chief counsel, Corzine said, "I am pleased to have a person with a full range of experience, integrity, and dedication to public service to serve as my next chief of staff."

Raised at Third and Wolf, McBride is the son of a Mummer, has marched in the parade, and plans to watch his 16-year-old son take part with a comic brigade this New Year's Day.

After that, he plans to go back to the old neighborhood to see family and friends. He is yet another graduate of St. Joseph's Preparatory School to take a top government position, joining Mayor Nutter and City Councilman James Kenney. His South Philly credentials also include childhood summers in North Wildwood, N.J.

McBride left Philadelphia to attend Georgetown University in Washington, and he received a joint degree in law and political science at Rutgers University.

At Rutgers, he joined the successful 1989 gubernatorial campaign of Democratic Rep. Jim Florio.

Florio said McBride had been his point person on New Jersey's assault-weapons ban, beginning in the campaign. McBride helped draft the legislation, helped get it through the Legislature, and fought a repeal attempt in 1991, Florio said.

"Ed is someone who is very thoughtful and kind of mature, even when he was young," he said. "He's very low-key and doesn't overwhelm you."

After working with Florio, McBride left government to work for the Philadelphia law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, but kept his interest in stopping gun violence.

Bryan Miller, executive director of Ceasefire NJ, said McBride had been on his executive board and "critical for our organization" in getting a childproof-handgun bill approved.

"As long as I've known him, he's been very well-connected in Trenton," Miller said. "When someone who is so highly respected makes a phone call or talks to someone in the [Statehouse] hallway, that's very helpful. When [legislators] know Ed was associated with Ceasefire, that was helpful to us because it raised our credibility."

After a few years in private practice, McBride felt the strong pull of public service and joined Gov. Jim McGreevey's administration in May 2004 as deputy chief of management and operations.

Three months later, McGreevey gave his famous "I am a gay American" resignation speech. McBride stayed until February 2005, when he joined the Corzine campaign as policy counsel. Mastering "budget speak," he worked on budget and tax issues, among others.

With the budget and economy likely to dominate the next year, the Corzine administration already is feeling heat from the GOP.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean Jr., of Union County, said his caucus "is going to ramp up on transparency in government," especially concerning taxes and spending.

"One of the great frustrations I have with the Corzine administration is they are extraordinarily opaque with financial issues. You never feel like you're getting the straight story," Kean said. Republicans say Corzine has been hesitant to disclose deficit projections and potential spending cuts.

McBride answered the criticism, saying that before detailing plans, the executive branch is awaiting December revenue numbers because they "give a much clearer picture of what we are facing in this fiscal year - a gap that is likely to be widening, but we don't know by how much."

He added: "We can't put out three ideas knowing that there's going to have to be another 18 ideas that have to be talked about" because of the more comprehensive December figures.

Clearly, he will have to use what Rep.-elect John Adler, a Democrat from Cherry Hill, said were McBride's "analytical skills and patience to listen to different perspectives" in the coming year.

A sports fan, McBride brings another skill to the job: He referees youth roller hockey.

"I have a feeling there are going to be occasions where I have to bring my whistle with me. I don't know," he joked.

Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or cburton@phillynews.com.