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NEWARK – It’s time for the men of Trenton politics to start worrying.
That was one of the messages, if not a threat, emerging from Thursday’s press conference by a group of women assembled by state Sen. Loretta Weinberg to look at sexual harassment, assault and misogyny in New Jersey politics.
To that end, the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, or NJCASA, has created an online survey for people to anonymously report sexual harassment or assault.
Weinberg spoke of a “toxic culture” in New Jersey politics. She put together her group of 12 women, including Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver, after a recent story in the Star-Ledger newspaper detailing pervasive sexual harassment in state politics.
The story focused on two popular political events – the League of Municipalities Convention in Atlantic City each November and the annual Chamber of Commerce train trip to Washington D.C. in February. The story reported lurid tales of often intoxicated men following women to their hotel rooms, groping them and at least in one instance, sexually assaulting them.
The story said – and the panel reiterated the point today – that in many cases women feared speaking out against abuse would hurt, or maybe end, their careers.
Oliver, a veteran of state politics, said the “Animal House” nature of the chamber train ride has lessened over the years, but that harassment is still a problem. In an effort to maintain more decorum this year, the chamber said after the story was published that the train club car will no longer serve hard liquor.
It was Jeannine LaRue, an executive with the Kaufman Zita Group, who warned some men about what’s to come.
Asked if male politicians who have misbehaved should be concerned, LaRue said, “They should be very, very nervous.” She added, “We will find out who you are.”
The tough rhetoric notwithstanding, Weinberg’s group is not an official body of the Legislature, so its reach is questionable.
Weinberg said she did not have a solution, adding, “This is just a beginning.”
The group’s future plans include holding public forums to discuss harassment and related problems and also a closed forum to allow women to tell their stories privately.
The senator and others mentioned the case of Katie Brennan, a campaign volunteer for then-candidate Phil Murphy, who said she was raped by a campaign staffer. That led to about six months of periodic legislative hearings beginning in late 2018. Testimony was given by many members of what is now the Murphy administration, but the committee reached no conclusion on what happened between Brennan and her reported assailant.
As a liberal Democrat, Murphy has gotten much support from women’s groups. And he spoke generally about sexual harassment and misogyny in his recent state of the state address.
Weinberg remains unimpressed.
Beyond the governor’s acknowledgement of the problem, she said, “I’m not sure what else he addressed.”