No stranger to embroiled political situations, and never at a loss to create a chance to leap over a barricade when others in her midst found the prospect intimidating, and so perhaps appropriately in the middle of a pandemic while the U.S. House of Representatives impeached a president for inciting a riot, her own voice added to the cause, state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) of Teaneck today announced her retirement from the state senate at the end of her current term.
A state leader on women’s rights, progressive causes, and the main senate driver behind marriage equality for gays and lesbians, who fought the machine in her home county of Bergen at the height of her anti-establishment period, and backed Baraka Obama against the grain in the 2008 primary, only to ultimately join forces with the South Jersey political establishment in the name of political pragmaticism, Weinberg will retire as one of the most consequential state elected officials of the millennium.
“I expect you to continue to move New Jersey forward; to get together to find solutions and to train the next generation,” she said to her supporters.
In a virtual conference call, the senator thanked her late husband, Irwin.
“He always wanted peace and quiet but instead he decided to marry me,” said Weinberg, with emotion.
She also thanked Jeremiah O’Connor, who started her in politics, the late Jamie Fox, the late Babs Siperstein, her family, her “adopted son” Steven Goldstein, the founder of Garden State Equality, and many others.
Weinberg told reporters she would not endorse her successor, as Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37) and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37) face a fight for her seat (see link below).
“This is the right time,” she said. “I’ve been able to do it for 30 years.”
She acknowledged mistakes, but focused on the positive.
To win her senate seat in the diverse suburban North Jersey district, the self-titled “feisty Jewish grandmother” who started out in the county clerk’s office took on then-Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman Joe Ferriero when the boss inspired fear in other Democratic officials. She also joined the ticket of incumbent Governor Jon Corzine (whom she also thanked in her Zoom call today) as his running mate in 2009, maintaining a forward position as an avid and fearless critic of their Republican conqueror, Chris Christie, throughout his tenure as governor.
An aggressive, fact-finding Weinberg helped drive the so-called Bridgegate scandal into the arms of prosecutors, after Christie cronies shut down the George Washington Bridge for political purposes during his reelection campaign.
Her departure is expected to create an opening for state Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) to become the next senate majority leader.
Her critics complained that all the 85-year old progressive Bergen brand name wants to do is fight. But she prefers another choice of words, as she told InsiderNJ in a 2018 interview at her office. “I don’t create fights, but it sometimes takes a fight,” said the majority leader. “I don’t call it fighting. I call it discipline and focus. These things don’t happen by themselves.”
In her last appearance on the floor of the state senate prior to making her announcement, Weinberg upbraided her Republican colleagues for refusing to condemn Trump’s primary role in dispatching a seditious, noose-toting mob in the direction of the United States Capitol, which resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer from New Jersey.
“We’ve even heard the conspiracy theories about this election being repeated in the halls of the New Jersey Senate,” Weinberg said on the heels of remarks by state Senator Mike Doherty (R-23) and state Senator Sam Thompson (R-12).
“I don’t understand how anyone can say we went too far in this resolution,” added the retiring senator, who commended state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) for introducing the resolution.
She couldn’t believe the timidity of the GOP.
“To be standing in the halls of the NJ State Senate and have to debate the insurrection,” an incredulous Weinberg said. “Stand up and condemn the action. This was an insurrection. It was a wound to democracy and if we can’t do that we are failing the people of New Jersey.”
Today, ahead of her formal announcement of retirement, those who worked with her – past and present colleagues – considered her and her legacy.
“She’s always been a very respectable and honorable person who put the people first,” said Rice. “She put ethics in the forefront. She’s just a wonderful person. When she became majority leader she did the bidding of the leadership, and even tabled some of my bills – and apologized. But I get it. She’s old school, and her heart has always been in the right place. She tried to work with all the different groups.
“I’ll miss her,” the Newark-based senator added. “She’s always been supportive of me and most things I’ve done there. She’s just a wonderful, terrific leader – and hard to replace. Some of them you want to go. I would prefer her to stay, but we all make that decision sooner or later. No one can ever accuse of her not doing her job and being a good leader; that’s what she is – a leader.”
Her work on exposing the Bridgegate scandal included a partnership as co-chair of a joint committee with former Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19), who uncovered the “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” bombshell.
Wisniewski reflected on Weinberg’s ability to blend progressive views with pragmatic politics.
“She was respectful of the institution of which she was a part, for that is what enables us to give our constituents a voice,” he said, reflected on their time together, going back to when the both served in the Assembly. “A dark side, and an unfortunate part of politics today is some progressives will say ‘she went over to the dark side’ because she worked, for example, with [Senate President Steve Sweeney]. This notion of qualitative litmus tests, that you are not a progressive unless you do x, y and z and sometimes in that order – the fact is, if you want to accomplish something in a legislative body, there is a time to be Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, standing on a desk, and a time to pick up the phone to have a conversation with someone you’re railing against publicly, to get something done.
“That is something in short supply, but not in the case of Loretta Weinberg, who learned from old school pols, who were relentlessly liberal and made deals – like O’Connor and [former LD37 Senator] Byron Baer. While I think of her in that way, I mourn the loss of experience in the legislative chamber. When you think about the last couple of years, you’re looking at 200 years of legislative experience that has walked out the door. And in these times, when there is a reticence to undertake the risk to stand up and say, ‘I disagree with you,’ a New Jersey Senate without Loretta Weinberg in it leaves you catching your breath.
“What’s that going to be like?” Wisniewski wondered.
Weinberg’s work on behalf of women – including trying to quash sexual harassment in the halls of power – made an impact, and earned her a special place of champion in the eyes of her women colleagues.
“I want to recognize the incredible work she has done,” said state Senator Nellie Pou (D-35). “She has been inspiring – and an inspiration to all women. Her tenacity, her commitment, her strength. She has been a voice for women and women’s issues and general issues altogether. She has demonstrated what all of us hope to be able to do as we continue our service. She will be certainly sadly be missed, but her voice will continue to be with all of us. She will be remembered for all the great things she did. She did so much work, and she has left her mark in terms of what many of us would want to continue, and there is much work to be done.”
Former Governor Richard Codey, who represents the 27th Legislative District in the senate, said, “She’s had a hell of a career. She’s willing to speak her mind.”
Infamously tossed off the senate throne of power in 2009 by the South Jersey establishment, Codey said he didn’t hold it against Weinberg that she forged an alliance with his successor, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), in part to claim the senate majority seat for the north. “It doesn’t detract from an outstanding career. I not only enjoyed her but her husband her daughter her whole family.”
From across the aisle, state Senator Kristin Corrado (R-40) said, “In our short time working together, I have gained great respect for Sen. Weinberg’s dedication to tackling extremely difficult issues, her steadfast advocacy for survivors of rape and domestic abuse, and her fearlessness in standing up to those in power even within her own party.
“Her retirement from the Legislature is truly a loss for both our institution and the people of New Jersey she has honorably served for three decades,” Corrado added. “She has become a mentor and, more importantly, a friend. I will truly miss working with her.”
“Loretta has been a good friend, a dedicated representative of her constituents, and at times, a worthy adversary,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21). “During her tenure in public office, the Senator’s steady, measured demeanor and thoughtful, authoritative voice helped her become an influential Democrat leader. I enjoyed working closely with her on several important bipartisan initiatives as her commitment to helping the people of New Jersey has always been undeniable. I look forward to continuing to work with her in the year ahead.”
Weinberg took time in her press conference today to thank Sweeney – who could be heard on the call – for picking her as his senate majority leader. She called him both her most valued and annoying colleague.
“We would not have passed paid sick leave without your support,’ she said. “Thank you for your friendship, for your confidence and for your work, which you have helped me do.”
Regarding her running mates, she noted, “Both of you will be paying very strong roles.”