In an increasingly contentious fight for the Democratic State Senate nomination in Bergen County, Valerie Vainieri Huttle is renewing calls for Gordon Johnson to fully address allegations that he made inappropriate sexual comments to a woman thirteen years ago.
Vainieri Huttle said that Johnson’s answers to a question asked by the New Jersey Globe at a debate on Sunday evening produced different answers – one a denial and the other that he doesn’t remember — “neither of them satisfactory,” she said.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
“So, which is it, Gordon? Is your answer ‘no,’ insinuating that your accuser is lying?” Vainieri Huttle questioned. “Or is the answer ‘I don’t remember’, which let’s be clear here, is not a real answer at all.”
But the woman who made the initial complaint against Johnson in 2008, Dierdre Paul, today told Vainieri Huttle to stop using her as a campaign issue.
“Don’t use my story as a cudgel against Gordon,” Paul said. “I want her to stop using my name to go after him.”
Paul said she was not the one who provided to the media a copy of an email she sent to Vainieri Huttle and others at the time. According to Paul, Vainieri Huttle and others never reached out to her.
Vainieri Huttle has been hammering Johnson on the incident.
“It has been 49 days since we learned of the accusations against Gordon, that ‘he abused his power and he tried to barter his City Council seat for sex,’” the eight-term lawmaker said. “And, it has been 49 days since we learned that Gordon Johnson told a woman that she should become his concubine,’ that her ability to climb in local politics would be dependent on what she was ‘willing to do for Englewood.’
Paul, who later became a Republican and ran against Johnson and Vainieri Huttle for Assembly in 2013, is angered that she has become a prop in the Democratic Senate contest.
“If she can’t win on her own, she should drop out of the race,” Paul said. “Don’t use my story for your political advantage. Stop it.”
Johnson’s campaign manager, Storm Wyche, said that the veteran assemblyman and former Englewood police officer “has spent his life working with victims of crimes and assault of all kinds, but especially with victims of sexual assault and harassment.”
“The fact is, he has not remained silent. He has responded both publicly and privately, by reaching out directly to Dr. Paul to address this 13 year old conversation,” said Wyche. “The Huttle campaign has dragged Dr. Paul’s private correspondence out into the public, shamelessly used Dr. Paul as a political football, and then on top of it, called her a liar.”
In the debate, Johnson denied that he has made unwanted advances to women while serving in public office and that he didn’t recall the conversation with Paul.
“That’s the sexual harassment defense,” Vainieri Huttle said in the debate. “You call the accuser a liar or she’s nuts, whatever, but she said it and it’s documented, and I didn’t bring it up and those are her words.:
Wyche alleged that Vainieri Huttle “wants the public to only believe the part that benefits her political campaign, but not the accusations of her own involvement.”
Paul declined to offer a formal endorsement in the race but made her preference clear.
“Out of the two of them, he’s the better one,” she said.