CWA Rep. Points Finger at Sweeney at Weinberg ‘Toxic Culture’ Committee Forum

Weinberg panel

FORT LEE – When Loretta Weinberg put together a panel to explore sexual harassment in New Jersey politics, it seemed to be about precisely that – the harassment and abuse impacting women in what is traditionally a male environment.

The launch point was a recent story in the Star Ledger about sexual abuse throughout state politics and most specifically at two marque events – the League of Municipalities Convention each November in Atlantic City and the late winter state Chamber of Commerce train trip to Washington D.C.

At a press conference a few weeks ago, the Weinberg-led committee said it would give individuals a forum – in public if they liked – to tell stories of harassment. There were vows to hold offending men responsible, albeit belatedly, for their actions.

The first such forum was Tuesday night at the town community center and one of the first to speak was Amanda Richardson, the Democratic chair in Harding Township, Morris County. She said she was relatively new to politics, but in the three years she has been involved, she spoke of being “propositioned” and “groped.” And she said that women must struggle to be taken seriously in politics when many men see them only as “fun and flirty.”

But as the discussion ensued over 90-minutes or so, the conversation shifted from sexual harassment to raw political power and its abuses. They are related, but they’re not the same. After all, political bosses exert control over both men and women.

The most prominent witness in that regard was Fran Ehret of the Communication Workers of America, an influential public union.

And the villain in her story was Senate President Stephen Sweeney, an iron worker by trade and a union man himself.

Ehret hearkened back to a political fight a decade ago over increasing employee pension and health benefit contributions. To some, the 2011 deal was one of the key accomplishments of Chris Christie’s first term as governor. Sweeney was a key ally of the governor on this issue.

Pubic unions bitterly fought the changes and that was the subject of Ehret’s remarks.

She said that at a public meeting during debate on the issue, Sweeney said he would take Ehret outside and “kick her ass”  if she was a man, Later, Ehret recalls that a handful of Sweeney associates crowded around her in an elevator in what she took as an attempt to intimidate. She called it “toxic masculinity.”

Sweeney didn’t dispute the substance of what Ehret said in a conversation with the Star Ledger, but he said the union leader is a committed political opponent of his and questioned her integrity.

Also brought up was a more recent incident – the removal of Sue Altman from a Senate committee hearing last November.

The subject was tax credits awarded to Camden-area businesses connected to south Jersey political boss George Norcross. Altman, who heads the state’s Working Families Alliance, is a Norcross critic.

And with many Norcross opponents jammed into the meeting room, this was a tense atmosphere. Soon after testimony began, Sen. Bob Smith, the committee chair, objected to boos, catcalls – whatever – coming from the audience. He asked police to remove the “back row.”  This was an order that lacked any specificity at all, but apparently not in the minds of the state troopers on hand that day.

They quickly and forcibly removed Altman, who was not anywhere near the “back row.”

Most who were there – me included – saw this as a completely over-the-top reaction by the police. It was also noteworthy that Smith shamefully said nothing when the police ignored his instructions to focus on the “back row.”

But as far as Weinberg’s group is concerned, was the removal of Altman misogyny or just political? There certainly can be an overlap, but would have police thrown out a male opponent of Norcross the same way they did a woman?

On one hand, that’s irrelevant. But in the context of sexual harassment in state politics, it’s not.

Weinberg’s panel, which is officially called the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics, plans future forums – some of which will be closed – in the weeks ahead.

But it seems clear from the initial public hearing that getting a handle on sexual harassment in state politics – and more importantly, doing something about it – is not going to be easy.

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  • cecilia fasano

    No one said it would be easy. But, where, in this article, is the link with Sweeney AND Weinberg? What does what she is trying to do have to do with what Sweeney and Norcross have been doing? Just saying.

  • none

    Ehret is a paid union agitator. She comes to events to create a scene. She claimed ” misogyny here. She clearly does not know what the word means. There was no ” hatred of women” going on. Ehret and her boss Rosenstein held meetings to talk about how to agitate at those meetings with Sweeney.
    People like Ehret and Rosenstein are ruining this important forum for women who have experienced real misogyny…and that is a shame.

    • Lesser False Vampire

      Ehret is a union rep who was doing her job. And Sweeney ought to respect that as he is a union man himself.

      You can’t excuse Sweeney’s behavior toward her by saying she deserved it. She had a right to be at the meeting and a first amendment right to disagree with him. And given that Sweeney doesn’t make these threats against men who disagree with him, then yes, this is real misogyny.

      Honestly, it’s like people have forgotten the Constitution and have no respect for the law anymore.

      • none

        Ehret highjacked a serious panel forum by falsely accusing Sweeney of misogyny. Sweeney did not dismiss her because she was a woman,he dismissed her because she was an agitator. Ehret and CWA had no business bringing this up at a serious forum. Ehret is a paid agitator for the CWA. Ehret and Rosenstein have an agenda and it is NOT women’s rights.

        • Lesser False Vampire

          Of course Ehret and Rosenstein have an agenda, and it doesn’t have to be focused on women’s rights just because they are women. They are union activists. I would expect them to advocate for their unions. Calling them “paid agitators” is an insult to the work they do.

          By that definition, Sweeney is also a “paid agitator” who advocates for his union by trying to destroy teachers.

          None of this give Sweeney the right to threaten Ehret with physical violence. He is an elected official, and she has a constitutional right to speak when she doesn’t agree with him. This doesn’t chance just because it’s her actual job.

          • none

            STOP! There were meetings were Ehret and Rosenstein had no positive agenda. Their only purpose was to show up to agitate Sweeney. I was there , I saw it, I heard it.
            These two are paid agitators. If they were doing the Union members work they would have constructive dialogue . All they did was scream.

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