Back in the aughts, I did some work on a municipal campaign that was rolling out a slate of candidates for town council. They were first-timers eager to introduce themselves to the world.
I was hired to produce a series of intro videos for their campaign webpage.
If memory serves me correctly, the first order of business was producing a short “welcome message” video with the municipal chairman.
When my camera-person met me for the shoot, she seemed upbeat.
“The lighting is perfect today,” she told me. “This should be a breeze.”
And despite a few audio glitches, the shoot was mostly routine.
But something stuck me during the editing process. The chairman kept making awkward jokes about one of the female candidates on his slate.
He must have name-checked her five or six times between takes.
“Did you notice that during the shoot?” I asked the cameraperson later.
She had noticed.
Then she shared the worst-kept secret of that year’s election cycle: the chairman had become romantically involved with the candidate he’d chosen for town council. So you can probably guess for yourself why the he made awkward jokes about his ladylove the entire time.
The revelation of their affair bothered me. And I was annoyed that no one else seemed to care.
“Jesus Jay, don’t be such a prude,” was typical of the pushback. “You’re whining about a relationship between two consenting adults and honestly, they seem really happy together.”
What’s it called when the municipal chair has an affair with one of his candidates during the campaign? How do you classify ongoing sexual behavior between a powerful gatekeeper and his subordinate?
I know how how I classify it.
If we’ve got municipal chairs, overwhelmingly men still, bringing their sex drive into the nominating process, can we call that corruption?
I tend to think so.
It’s corruption with a side of very poor judgement.
That awkward video shoot happened a very long time ago. We took a different view of campaign shenanigans back then as we do now. But what hasn’t changed is the immense power that county- and municipal chairs (usually men) wield over who’s chosen to run for office.
(If you’re looking for chokepoint for misogyny in New Jersey politics, there’s a very good place to start. While you’re there, look out for clues why male lawmakers in Trenton still outnumber females by nearly 3-to-1. It’s all there.)
Will her panel, thus far rather preoccupied with Gov Phil Murphy’s shortcomings, examine the power dynamics that exist in county- and municipal machine party politics? Or does that (massive) stone remain unturned because it might embarrass friends and colleagues?
And while we’re on topic, any trenchant exploration of misogyny in NJ politics must surely also examine the following:
Lawmakers who sleep with members of their staff or campaigns. Hello.
Lawmakers who’ve settled sexual harassment suits. Senator Weinberg was right to demand Governor Murphy release his campaign staff from non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to freely discuss incidents of crappy behavior on the trail. Loretta’s tenacity basically made it politically untenable for the Governor to enforce the NDAs.
In doing so, Loretta flexed that same fierceness many of us have long recognized. Let’s hope she’s equally strident working to re-examine sexual harassment settlements made by her colleagues. Especially the ones paid for by taxpayers.
Lawmakers who beat up their girlfriends and still manage to land a cushy tax-payer funded job. Looking at you Arthur Barclay.
Senator Loretta Weinberg and the women on her committee have the awesome and unenviable task of rolling back decades of rape/harassment culture in New Jersey.
The added scrutiny (especially from media types like myself) is a testament to how much is riding on their efforts.
Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer, podcaster, and videographer whose Radical Gay Agenda included getting the government out of your womb and your bong. He’s on Twitter @Jay_Lass.