Panel to examine misogyny in New Jersey politics

( NJ State House Tours )

Allegations of widespread misogyny in New Jersey politics will be front and center when a roving legislative panel holds its first meeting next week.

The forum will meet Tuesday evening in Fort Lee and is expected to be the first in a series that aims to shine a light on women’s experiences and turn around what some officials said is a “deeply rooted culture of misogyny.”

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg set the panel up after reports from NJ.com cited women who worked as lobbyists as well as legislative and campaign staffers saying they faced derogatory comments, unwanted touching and sexual assault.

A closer look at the issue:

WHAT WILL THE PANEL DO?

On the panel are more than a dozen women from state government and politics, including Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver and Julie Roginsky, a Democratic political consultant and one-time adviser to Phil Murphy before he was elected governor in 2017.

Roginsky made headlines recently with allegations that the Murphy campaign amounted to a “toxic” work environment involving “rank misogyny.” The governor has said Roginsky’s claims were looked at seriously and that they stemmed from a difference of opinion over campaign strategy.

The panel will hold public but also closed-door “listening sessions” and has also set up an anonymous online poll aimed at gathering information on people’s experiences.

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WHAT LED TO THE PANEL’S CREATION?

The most immediate impetus was the news report published on NJ.com that cited more than a dozen women alleging misconduct — including, in some cases, assault — that they faced in their jobs in state politics.

But there was more context, as well. In a 2018 report, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, a former Murphy campaign aide was accused of sexually assaulting a woman who was also working to get the Democrat elected. The Associated Press doesn’t typically identify people alleging sexual assault, but Katie Brennan came forward publicly at hearings and in print and said her complaints fell on deaf ears within the Murphy administration. Al Alvarez, the former campaign aide and state government official, denied any wrongdoing and wasn’t charged criminally.

Brennan’s account, though, led to legislative hearings and an investigation launched by the governor. The Legislature’s report concluded the governor’s staff botched its handling of Brennan’s complaint, while Murphy’s office said it “must do better” to help victims seek justice.


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WHAT DOES THE GOVERNOR SAY ABOUT THE PANEL?

Murphy initially had a lukewarm response, saying the panel should have a “whole of government” approach, but then Oliver, the lieutenant governor, made clear she was supporting the panel’s work and would be joining it. Oliver is Murphy’s hand-picked lieutenant governor, and the two were elected on the same ticket in 2017.

Since the panel’s establishment, he has also called for overhauling the culture in New Jersey politics during his State of the State address.

Murphy spokeswoman Alyana Alfaro said in a statement that the governor “is committed to making positive and long-lasting changes to address the culture in Trenton.”

She said the governor would “seek to work collaboratively” with Weinberg and the panel.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

Weinberg has said the panel will hold public and private hearings. There are expected to be at least two more public hearings in other parts of the state. Murphy hasn’t publicly given a timeline for the overhaul he sought in his address.

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