Two senators that headed a select committee investigating the hiring of a former staffer in Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration slammed the governor over what they claimed was his superficial support of reforms fighting a culture of misogyny in the state’s politics.
“In the State of the State address, you called for partners in the government to join you in tearing down the existing system of misogyny and harassment and to replace it with one that treats everyone with equal dignity and respect,” State Sens. Loretta Weinberg and Kristin Corrado said in an NJ.com op-ed. “With all due respect, the culture won’t change without leadership, governor.”
During his annual address on Tuesday, Murphy called for lawmakers to stand with him against sexual harassment and other brands of misogyny that permeate Trenton, though he did so without mentioning or even alluding to the stumbles of his own administration in that arena.
Weinberg and Corrado led the bicameral select committee that investigated the Murphy administration’s hiring of former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Alvarez, who was accused of sexual assault by State Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency chief of staff Katie Brennan.
Brennan alleged Alvarez sexually assaulted her in April 2017, when he was in charge of Muslim and Latino outreach for Murphy’s campaign, for which Brennan would later volunteer.
Brennan has said she was alienated by her colleagues in state government after her allegations against Alvarez were reported in the Wall Street Journal and is currently suing the state over a policy enforcing gag orders on sexual assault accusers.
Murphy has also drawn fire from lawmakers over non-disclosure agreements signed by members of his campaign that Weinberg and others said prevent victims from raising issues about workplace conditions, including those related to sexual harassment.
The governor has so far declined to release his campaign workers from their NDAs, claiming they cannot be used to silence victims.
“The problem with that is that it has never been true. The NDAs your campaign consultants and staffers were forced to sign legally do not work that way,” the senators said. “If you, governor, would like to clear that up, however, and actually mean it when you say, ‘we will listen,’ we would be happy to provide you with the number of Paul Josephson – your campaign’s lawyer.”
Weinberg and Corrado said Josephson has told former members of Murphy’s campaign that the NDAs preclude the type of disclosure Murphy says they allow.
Josephson did not immediately respond to a 12:02 p.m. phone call seeking comment.
Weinberg, who is Senate majority leader, is launching an ad hoc committee meant to investigate the culture of misogyny in the state’s capital.
She recently added Elizabeth Coulter, who served as deputy director of the state in Murphy’s Department of Health’s Office of Women’s Health before leaving to become the director of public health for Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, to the committee’s cohort.
Coulter’s name was not on a list of 17 Murphy loyalists Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver asked be added to Weinberg’s committee.
“You asked the legislators to join you, but we ask you to join us,” Weinberg and Corrado said. “There is a problem with the culture, that much we can agree on, but we are willing to work to change it.”