Click play for audio version of this story
The longest-serving African-American legislator in state history says that Gov. Phil Murphy and other Democratic leaders patronize black legislators and alleges they don’t take them seriously.
“Black elected officials, civil rights and faith-based leaders in New Jersey continue to be taken for granted in a manner not dissimilar to the way black voters and brown and black people in general, are often dismissed on a daily basis,” said State Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Newark) in a brutal, stinging letter to Murphy obtained by the New Jersey Globe.
Rice told Murphy that “it’s possible that you are oblivious to the treatment that I and other leaders of color have repeatedly experienced time after time.”
According to Rice, whenever the Legislative Black Caucus (NJLBC) meets with white elected state officials, “we are met with patronizing conversations, a smile, the pretense of understanding and empty promises for cooperation.”
“Or perception is that there is an entrenched pattern of behavior based on the expectation that we leaders will go home, be silent and simply wait until the next meeting to have the same conversation,” said Rice, who has served in the Senate since 1986 and chairs the Legislative Black Caucus.
Rice leveled his complaints directly at Murphy, Steve Sweeney and Craig Coughlin, suggesting that “it is as though we are expected to be grateful for simply having face time with you, the Senate President and/or the Assembly Speaker.”
The eleven-term Essex County Democrat was an early supporter of Murphy’s bid for the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and had been one of a small handful of Senate Democrats Murphy though he could count on as he began his term last year.
Just a month before the mid-term legislative elections, Rice says he’s disappointed with Murphy, telling the governor that “black and brown elected officials, faith-based and civil rights leaders, taxpayers, voters and residents in general placed our hope and faith in you for justice, believing that the days of modern-day bondage in New Jersey would end for people of color.”
Rice says that Black and Latino legislators are “ frustrated and impatient with what appears to be procrastination by your administration” to work on behalf of social and economic justice” issues.
“I can assure you it is not simply face time that we seek. We want action,” Rice said. “We’ve been down this road before. As leaders, we refused to continue down the same path that yields so little so late.”
Rice cited the decriminalization of recreational marijuana as one example of how Murphy and Democratic leaders have let down the state’s minority communities.
He is seeking a meeting with members of Black and Latino legislative caucus.
“New Jersey was one of the last states to free slaves,” Rice said. “It’s time we accelerated our timeline of right action.”