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Former Sussex County Democratic Chair Leslie Huhn

Palmieri defenders turn spears toward Weinberg committee

Warren Democratic chairman accused of sexual harassment by Sussex counterpart

By Nikita Biryukov, May 28 2020 5:59 pm

A group of Democratic women marshaled to defend Warren County Democratic Chairman Tom Palmieri against a sexual harassment allegation leveled at him by his Sussex County counterpart attacked an anti-misogyny working group after it criticized them for “rushing to judgement” on the allegations.

“We are being accused of ‘rushing to judgment’ in our support for Chairman Palmieri and of trying to deter women from testifying before her committee,” Palmieri’s defenders said. “We are awestruck by the breadth of Sen. Weinberg’s hypocrisy. She claims she wants to create a safe place for women to speak up, but apparently only if what they have to say fits her political agenda.”

Katie Rotondi, the Sussex chair, in a January email to Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg’s ad-hoc committee on sexual harassment and misogyny in New Jersey politics said Palmieri made sexual advances toward her at their first meeting and claimed he attempted to retaliate politically after Rotondi turned him down.

The Sussex chairwoman also claimed Palmieri joked about drugging her drink at a fundraiser held at Gov. Phil Murphy’s home.

Palmieri has denied the allegations.

After the accusations were published, the Warren chairman circulated a letter in his defense among the county’s women Democrats. Twenty-one democratic women signed onto that letter, and a handful of others made individual statements in his defense.

The response drew a rebuke from Weinberg’s committee, which warned the women’s actions could have a chilling effect on other women — less powerful — women who had been sexually assaulted or harassed while urging observers to wait for facts to emerge before reacting.

Palmieri’s defenders—they include former Sussex Chairwoman Leslie Huhn, former Sussex Democratic State Committeewoman Michele Van Allen and Warren Vice Chairwoman Iris Perott, among others—saw the committee’s statement

“It is Sen. Weinberg who has ‘rushed to judgment’ in her public support for the accuser, and denouncement of us, without having any of the facts that are readily available to her should she actually be interested in ‘facts,’” Palmieri’s defenders said. “It is a ‘rush to judgment,’ and incredibly insulting, for Sen. Weinberg to suggest we would speak out without having all the facts or to tell us that we don’t know what we’re talking about.”

The ad-hoc committee explicitly said it was not making a determination on the validity of Rotondi’s allegations.

“While we do not presume to adjudicate the merits of her allegations, this is not the first time that leaders — including, unfortunately, female leaders — have rushed to judgement before learning all the facts,” the committee said. “The concerted effort to discredit women as soon as they muster the courage to come forward serves as a deterrent that has long prevented many survivors from speaking up.”

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