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Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Weinberg launching committee to tackle sexual predation in NJ politics

Move follows report on widespread sexual assault, harassment

By Nikita Biryukov, December 30 2019 4:45 pm

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg announced the creation of an ad hoc committee to investigate sexual harassment and sexual assault in New Jersey politics following an NJ Advance Media report that said such problems still ran rampant here.

“With all that we have tried to do, we clearly have made far too little progress in changing the culture of Trenton,” she said. “It was particularly heartbreaking to read how a 30-year-old woman who was raped followed the Katie Brennan hearings and concluded that she was right not to speak up because of the public price Katie paid for her courage.”

Brennan, who is chief of staff at the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, accused former Schools Development Authority chief of staff Al Alvarez of sexually assaulting her in April 2017, when he was in charge of Muslim and Latino outreach for Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign, for which Brennan would later volunteer.

Weinberg was a co-chair of the select committee that investigated Alvarez’s hiring.

No one was terminated because of the incident, and though Alvarez was forced out of the SDA, Brennan has since said she’s been ostracized for speaking out.

NJ Advance Media first reported the creation of the ad hoc committee.

Weinberg said she invited veteran lobbyist Jeannine LaRue, political operative Julie Roginsky and Patricia Teffenhart, executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Senate Majority Counsel Alison Accettola and Senate Minority Executive Director Christine Shipley to serve on the panel, whose membership will be finalized later this week.

NJ.com’s report said many of the women they interviewed named two annual networking events, parties at the League of Municipalities’ annual conference and the State Chamber of Commerce’s annual walk to Washington, as hotbeds for abuses.

“Frankly, I was disappointed by the ‘see no evil’ responses of League and Chamber leaders, who refused to take any responsibility for the transgressions that routinely happen at these events,” Weinberg said.

The senator said she would invite leaders from both groups before the committee to think of ways to address predatory behavior at their events.

The panel could also be another step in Weinberg’s quest to end the use of non-disclosure agreements in cases of sexual assault and harassment.

“The goal is to recommend steps that can be taken immediately to reform the toxic culture that women face in New Jersey politics, and to empower women to speak up and speak out,” Weinberg said. “That starts with making it clear that no woman — no matter her employment status — is legally barred by any past, current or future non-disclosure agreement from speaking out about harassment, assault or a toxic misogynistic culture on political campaigns or anywhere else.”

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