With the clock winding down on 2019, Star Ledger put out a story entitled “MeToo was supposed to fix things. But women in N.J. politics say they’ve been groped, harassed — and worse.”
The authors Sue Livio and Kelly Heyboer spent months researching the impact #MeToo had on NJ politics.
Dozens of women interviewed for the article “painted a portrait of a casually misogynistic system of politics and government where it is nearly impossible for women to remain in the business without having to navigate everything from sexist insults to assaults on their bodies.”
The story wasn’t the bombshell I hoped for and I noticed few men react publicly. It’s hard to know who’s in denial and who’s just keeping his head down and hoping #MeToo blows over quickly.
One female friend suggested something I hadn’t considered: some men harken to their own transgressions whenever this topic comes up and would feel hypocritical to weigh in supportively.
“Ok, so now this guy’s on the #MeToo bandwagon talking about ‘I believe women’ on Facebook and what happens when the women he mistreated a decade ago sees that?”
So with men mostly taking a pass, the burden’s on women to 1) change the climate that gives rise to pervasive harassment and 2) ensure a degree of accountability.
Senator Loretta Weinberg quickly assembled an an ad hoc committee to examine harassment culture in the wake of Star Ledger’s #MeToo article. Weinberg’s panel includes blue chip names like Julie Roginsky and Jeannine LaRue.
Dr Patricia Campos-Medina is a veteran NJ politico and member of LUPEPAC, a political action group dedicated to increasing political opportunites for Latinas in NJ.
“I do believe Senator Weinberg legitimately cares about this issue and if she does it right it’ll be good for all of us,” Dr Campos-Medina told InsiderNJ. “But she should listen to a diverse group of women advocates because men behaving badly is not limited to one issue or one player.”
Specially, Dr Campos-Medina cited the zero Latina voices on Weinberg’s committee which left her frustrated that “at this point in this point in time I still have to call out elected officials for omitting Latinas from discussions about gender equality and sexual harassment.”
According to Dr Campos-Medina, LUPEPAC reached out with tips to make Weinberg’s committee better and more credible. They also suggested names to make the lineup more representative of what NJ actually looks like.
“We have not received an official response from Senator Weinberg to the letter LUPEPAC sent her last Thursday. She still has not confirmed receipt or told us if she will nominate a Latina to lead her Committee.”
In a phone conversation on Wednesday, Weinberg gave her “150% guarantee” that the ad hoc committee she’s forming will be composed with integrity and without consideration of the deep divide politics dogging the state. As part of her effort, she noted, “I have not had one conversation about this with Steve Sweeney,” in reference to the senate president, who occupies one political camp in a same-party face-off with Governor Phil Murphy.
This is bigger than that, she insisted.
“Everything is not about Steve Sweeney, Phil Murphy, Leroy Jones and John Currie,” Weinberg said.
In response to a query by LUPE-PAC to be part of her committee, the senate majority leader said, “I reached out to LUPE-PAC to be on the planning board [which she said will compose the committee].”
Thirty or 40 people have reached out to her, including some men. She has also received calls from women who spoke anonymously to the Star-Ledger.
Senator Weinberg’s committee is already focused on the use of so-called Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) by Governor Murphy’s campaign. It’s a credible grievance because, while they’re a common practice, NDAs are often tools used to paper over bad behavior.
Weinberg chided Governor Murphy for a perceived lack of support of this committee that hasn’t even met yet.
“For her Committee to be credible she has to accept some responsibility that under her watch as an elected official, our political institutions have failed to address allegations of sexual harassment across the board.” Dr Campos-Medina told InsiderNJ.
These panels, which potentially can do a lot of good stuff, are often convenient tools for legislators to dunk on the Governor. That’s why Dr Campos-Medina is still pushing for something better than the current, slow-moving model.
“Perhaps the recourse to follow is an independent commission made up of organizations like LUPEPAC and NOW NJ, that indeed have an independent voice. We need a #MeToo reckoning that is truly looking a system wide abuses, and not targeting any one political player,” she added.
If you’ve ever been to the NJ League of Municipalities Convention in AC or ridden the Chamber of Commerce train to DC, you’re already familiar with the raucous, boozy atmosphere that permeates both events.
Star Ledger cited both as places where men exhibit a range of misbehavior from unwanted flirting to groping to full blown rape. My reportage over the years echos that characterization. You can’t more explicit than sharing actual tips how to stop rape in Atlantic City.
The NJ Chamber of Commerce will ban hard alcohol on next month’s Chamber Train trip, a direct response to Star Ledger’s reporting. It’s a very modest gesture on a trip where wine and beer will flow freely.
Alcohol is frequently a symptom of harassment culture but it’s not the root cause. I hope these event organizers understand that.
Patricia Teffenhart runs the NJ Coalition Against Sexual Assault. She called the booze ban a “convenient scapegoat for people and institutions looking to avoid true reform and responsibility.”
Just the same, the hard alcohol ban is a very public acknowledgement that time’s running out on the sort of boozy shenanigans commonly associated with these high profile political events.
Jay Lassiter its longtime political polemicist living in Cherry Hill, NJ.