Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, the liberal lion of the New Jersey Legislature and one of the most consequential men or women to ever serve in the New Jersey Legislature, announced today that she would retire after a political career that spanned six decades.
“I’ve told people that I feel overwhelmed. I feel emotional, but I don’t feel conflicted about my decision,” Weinberg said. “This is my time. I’ve served for long years, and it’s time to move on to do the things that I enjoy doing, to have more time for my family and those two grandkids that are out there in the pictures someplace.”
Weinberg, 85, will not seek re-election this year to her 37th districts State Senate seat she has held since 2004, ending a stretch of more than 30 years in public office that began with her election to the Teaneck Township Council in 1990.
She is the first senator to make a retirement announcement. Her seat is solidly Democratic.
Weinberg began her legislative career after winning a special election convention to fill an open Assembly seat in 1992.
In a Republican-controlled lower house, Weinberg sponsored laws that required insurance companies to pay for 48-hour hospital stays for maternity patients and mandated that judges receive domestic violence training. Another early Weinberg law restricted the access to firearms for domestic abusers.
In the 1990s, she took a leading statewide role in pushing for investigations into allegations of sexual harassment in politics and government – a fight she continues today.
After moving up to the Senate in 2005, Weinberg led the fight to allow same sex marriages – a battle that ultimately was defeated by the Senate but later granted by the courts. She sponsored laws that prohibited smoking in indoor public places, to strengthen New Jersey’s anti-bullying laws, and to appropriate funds for autism research. Weinberg authored a law that reduced the legal blood alcohol level for drunk drivers to .08%.
In 2014, Weinberg became the co-chair of the Legislative Select Committee on Investigation that sought to determine the cause of lane realignments at the George Washington Bridge.
She was also at the forefront of advancing women in New Jersey politics. She co-chaired the bicameral Select Committee on Investigation that probed the Murphy administration’s hiring of Al Alvarez, whom State Mortgage Finance and Housing Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan accused of sexual assault.
The saga led her to author a bill making non-disclosure agreements used in settlements in cases involving discrimination, retaliation or harassment, including sexual harassment and sexual assault. That bill, one of many Weinberg penned in the aftermath of the Brennan hearings, was signed into law in 2019.
Misogyny in politics again drew Weinberg’s attention after reports found harassment and sexual assault pervaded Trenton and top-billed political events in the state. That group saw its work upended by the pandemic, but it’s not ending yet, nor will it when Weinberg’s final term in the Senate comes to an end.
“I will continue the crucial work we have started with the Women’s Work Group for the rest of my term and thereafter,” she said.
She said she would continue to focus on increasing transparency in government. For years, Weinberg has pushed reforms to expand the Open Public Records Act, most recently urging the governor to sign a bill that would make documents drafted in response to the pandemic subject to disclosure.
Weinberg pushed similar reforms to the Open Public Meetings Act, seeking to force authorities and redevelopment entities to hold public, noticed meetings.
“Don’t think I’m becoming either complacent or compliant,” she said. “I still have plenty of important priorities in the coming year.”
After the agency’s budget was gutted under former Gov. Chris Christie, Weinberg became the chief advocate for NJ Transit commuters in the upper chamber, pushing laws to expand the beleaguered transportation network’s board of directors to include members of the public and creating new positions for customer advocates and ethics officers.
That work, too, would continue as she wound down her time under the golden dome, she said.
In a state where legislators bend knee to leadership more often than not, Weinberg was a rarity. Though she has long been a close ally of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), whom she named Wednesday as both her most valued and most annoying colleague, she’s sometimes been a thorn in his side, as she was when she broke with him over a proposed health plan restructuring in 2016.
With her public life entering its next, and perhaps its final, stage, Weinberg, the second — and longest serving — woman to hold the majority leader post in the upper chamber, left a simple message for the next generation of New Jersey’s political class.
“There is still work to do and there is still progress to make,” she said. “I wanted to let you know, especially for the younger folks, that I expect you to continue to move New Jersey forward, to work together, to get creative, to find solutions and to train the next generation. And don’t give up. Progress is bigger than any one person or any single act.”