State Troopers moments ago removed Working Families Alliance State Director Sue Altman from a hearing in which South Jersey Power Broker George Norcross was scheduled to testify.
“I want that entire back line of people removed,” Select Committee Chairman Bob Smith (D-17) told state police.
The troopers proceeded to escort people in that area from the meeting room. When police attempted to get Altman – who was not against the back wall – to leave, she refused to go and moments later, they physically removed her.
They side-doored her right past Norcross and out of the room.
After the incident, InsiderNJ caught up with Altman.
“Our folks were in the back, about 20 people, whom we had to smuggle in,” she said. “We booed. I booed a couple of times. The cop came over and pointed at me directly and said ‘You have to leave.’ I said, ‘I didn’t do anything. He said, ‘You booed three times.’ What is this, three boos and you’re out?”
Altman said she was not personally planning to reenter the hearing room, but Working Families planned a demonstration outside.
“The hearing is a sham to curate a perfect testimony experience for George Norcross and we were
throwing a monkey wrench in that plan, so they movied me out,” said Altman, who – amid ongoing investigations into the tax incentives – last month led activists calling for Norcross’ resignation from the Cooper Hospital Board.
Chairman Smith had reacted after NJ AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech made a comment to the select committee about the positive impact of the tax incentive program on the city of Camden.
“There’s been tremendous business not only in Camden but in the state state with this kind of project,” said the labor leader. “We have to come out with something.”
Jeers ensued and Smith – who had warned about loud and inappropriate behavior at the start of the hearing, told officers to boot people lined up along the entire back wall of the hearing room.
InsiderNJ columnist Fred Snowflack witnessed the fracas.
“Sue Altman was just thrown out of meeting – actually dragged out – for allegedly causing a disturbance,” Snowflack said. “Essentially, she and others had booed one of those testifying… Her ejection was ordered by Bob Smith, the committee chair. This really seemed like an uncalled for and heavy-handed response.”
A critic of the South Jersey boss, Altman was present to listen to Norcross’ testimony to the state committee on the subject of tax incentives, a program currently under investigation by the F.B.I. and the state attorney general’s office. Businesses connected to Norcross received over a billion dollars in incentives as a consequence of the New Jersey Economic Opportunity Act of 2013.
“Today’s hearing is a spectacle, pure theatre,” Altman told InsiderNJ columnist Jay Lassiter this morning. “Team Norcross has bent over backwards to curate the ideal Trenton experience for him; from recruiting cheerleaders to attend via the Camden County Democratic Committee, to assembling a committee made of his direct financial beneficiaries, mostly beholden to his childhood friend, Senate President Sweeney.”
A frontline, Camden-based activist who called for a criminal investigation into the Norcross brothers’ over the EDA scandal, Altman has also routinely squabbled on twitter with Norcross’ chief retainer, Steve Ayscue. In September, Altman condemned Ayscue’s tweet to her of the falling man on the 18th anniversary of 911 as menacing and threatening, and wanted NJTV to discontinue using him as a pundit.
Altman ally Governor Phil Murphy had this to say about the episode:
“The forceful removal of @SueAltman from today’s tax incentives hearing is completely outrageous and unacceptable. Every senator on that committee owes her a direct apology. Dissent will always be a part of our American fabric.”
But Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) praised fellow Middlesex County lawmaker Smith, who booted the Working Families executive director. “I want to commend Senator Bob Smith and the Senate Select Committee on Economic Growth Strategies for its work ensuring a thorough review of economic incentives,” Coughlin said.
Altman herself later issued the following statement after state troopers forcibly dragged her from today’s Senate hearing on state tax incentives in advance of Norcross’ testimony:
“Today, George Norcross and his political allies resorted to thuggery and violence to silence the voices of Camden residents and advocates seeking to make their voices heard on the ongoing incentives scandal.
“While Norcross allies were cheering, a group of advocates booed on response to public testimony from a Norcross ally. I was then specifically targeted for removal from the hearing room. State troopers grabbed me by the arm, and when I fell they dragged me from the committee room. They then issued me a citation for disorderly conduct.
“Violence against political opponents is the last refuge of despots who have lost the debate over ideas. What happened to me today unmasks the dirty underbelly of a machine that will subvert democracy in its ruthless goal to accumulate and maintain power.
“Norcross and his allies expected a perfectly choreographed appearance by Norcross today. Camden residents refused to be silent, and because of that we were targeted with an act of political violence and thuggery.”