Sending a message to segments of the Democratic Party establishment, Gov. Phil Murphy has invited Barbara Buono to be his guest as he delivers his annual budget address to a joint session of the New Jersey Legislature, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Buono, the 2013 Democratic candidate for governor, resurfaced last week after a six-year absence from New Jersey politics with a Huffington Post Op-Ed about sexism in New Jersey politics.
“I was not prepared to deal with predatory behavior ranging from overt assault to casual verbal misogyny,” Buono wrote. “Hostility toward strong female leaders is endemic to the New Jersey political establishment.”
By putting Buono in an up-front seat in the Assembly chamber, Murphy appears to be signaling some of his political opponents that the issue of sexual harassment and toxic workplace environments is not limited to his campaign and administration.
“Trenton remained an all-boys club. It was the kind of place where a male colleague felt free to tell me to bend further over the desk where I was standing one day in our caucus room,” Buono wrote about an unnamed assemblyman. “New to the legislature and alone with him, I was mortified. His lewd comments haunt me to this day.”
Buono also alleged that the late Assemblyman Peter Barnes, Jr. (D-Edison), her former running mate, smacked her behind in public.
“When I turned around looking shocked and upset, he met my gaze with an arrogant glare, daring me to say something,” she said. “I felt angry but utterly powerless.”
Barnes became the Middlesex County Democratic chairman in 2011, during Buono’s last two years in the Senate.
Buono slammed Democratic party bosses in her concession speech after winning 38% of the vote against Republican Gov. Chris Christie, suggesting that New Jersey was one of the “last vestiges of old boy machine politics,” and claimed she was betrayed by her own party.
Still, Buono did not face overwhelming obstacles during a political career that began when she won a Metuchen borough council seat in 1992. She ran for the State Assembly in a 1994 special election after winning the Middlesex County Democratic convention with 64%, and then had the backing of Democratic leadership when she flipped a Republican State Senate seat in 2001.
She was the first woman to chair the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, and became the first woman to serve as Senate Majority Leader in 2011. Two years later, Senate Democrats ousted her; she was replaced by Loretta Weinberg.
Buono had a relatively easy time winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. She won every organization line, but only after more well-known men declined to run against Christie.