At Roundtable with Women, Menendez Keeps the Hugin Eating Club Issue Alive

NORTH BERGEN _ As Sen. Bob Menendez posed for a photo with 15 women after a roundtable discussion Friday morning at a local diner, he quipped that his opponent wouldn’t want any members of the group to join Princeton University eating clubs.

It was unknown if any of the women attended Princeton, or even if all knew what the joke was about.

That didn’t matter.

It’s certainly clear by now that after news surfaced last week that Republican Senate candidate Bob Hugin opposed admitting women and gays into university eating clubs, which are a longstanding Princeton tradition, Menendez is not going to let the issue die.

And who can blame him?

It’s a good one for him and a troublesome one for Hugin.

Menendez mentioned the incident on Monday in Bayonne when the issue at hand was a federal grant to bolster New Jersey ports and again on Friday during what was billed as a discussion on what was on the minds of a cross-section of New Jersey women.

This was a supportive group.

The senator began by asked the group assembled around a table at the Boulevard Diner, “What keeps you up at night?”

The answers allowed Menendez to both stress his campaign themes and to denounce the Trump administration. Actually, they’re one in the same.

On immigration, Menendez stressed the importance of DACA, a program aimed at helping children brought to this country illegally by their parents and condemned President Trump for ending the initiative. Trump’s termination order is tied up in the courts.

He said he would oppose Brett Kavanaugh, the president’s Supreme Court nominee, noting that the judge’s writings show that he would support overturning the federal right to abortion.

This, of course, gave him another opportunity to take a swipe at Hugin, noting that the Republican financially supports the Heritage Foundation, which Menendez said is anti-choice.

One questioner asked about the opioid epidemic. Menendez said expanding the Medicaid program, which was done through the Affordable Care Act, has widened treatment options for many who are struggling with opioid addiction. It went without saying – almost – that the administration’s goal of repealing the ACA would terminate that treatment option.

The only possible controversial subject raised had to do with a planned gas-fired power plant in an industrial section of North Bergen.

This was a ticklish issue for the senator.

North Bergen officials with an eye toward local jobs and ratables  support the plant. But those in nearby towns and many environmentalists oppose it, fearing water contamination and other types of pollution.
Rather than wade into a contentious local issue, Menendez eschewed a direct answer and pivoted to a general condemnation of the Trump administration’s environmental policies.

Through his long career in politics – it started with a run for the Union City school board in 1974 – Menendez at times has been considered aloof and a bit cold.

So it was interesting that on the issue of “equal pay for equal work,” Menendez sought to personalize his feelings.

He noted that his mother was a seamstress in a Hudson County factory. Over time, she was asked to leave her work station and oversee the work of others.

But while she was a de facto supervisor, her pay was never on par with men who did the same job.

And that, Menendez said, was just wrong.

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