Gov. Phil Murphy on Thursday called a report detailing sexual harassment and assault in state and local politics in New Jersey “pretty shocking” and said it was “awful” that women felt they couldn’t come forward because they feared retaliation.
Murphy also urged two organizations that hold marquee New Jersey political events to take a close look at the what is happening at the gatherings in the wake of the NJ Advance Media report.
The report, published on NJ.com and in The Star-Ledger and its affiliated newspapers, included accounts from 20 women who said they were the victims of sexual misconduct while working on political campaigns and doing lobbying work both in the past and as recently as last year.
“It’s a pretty shocking article,” Murphy said when asked about the story during a news conference after a bill signing in Trenton on Thursday. “I wish I were completely surprised, but I wasn’t, and I suspect must of us weren’t. But it was pretty shocking.”
Several women in the report said they were sexually assaulted or touched inappropriately at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s annual “Walk to Washington” train trip or the New Jersey League of Municipalities’ annual convention in Atlantic City.
Murphy, a Democrat, said he supports a committee being formed to investigate the issues that women face in Garden State politics, as long as it take a “whole-of-government approach.”
State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said Monday she is forming the ad hoc committee to look for ways to change the “toxic culture that women face in New Jersey politics.”
“I think putting a group together, a committee together, as long as it is a whole-of-government approach, we would, I’ll say on behalf of our administration, we would raise our hands and want to be part of that committee,” Murphy said.
“Is it enough? It’s a step, but I think action is what matters here, and I’m proud of the steps that we’ve taken over the past couple of years,” the governor added.
In addition, Murphy said the League of Municipalities and the Chamber of Commerce must make changes to their annual conferences, saying he understands the women who came forward in the report are seeking more than just words.
“Make changes. Take action. Get those particular events into a much better place than where they are at the moment and where they’ve been historically,” Murphy said. “I would add my personal plea that they do just that, that they clean those things up. And it is within their powers to do that. I think they’ve got the authority and the responsibility to do that.”
Both the League and the Chamber released statements after the report saying they are looking for ways to help to combat sexual harassment.
Murphy’s administration made changes to how the state government responds to reports of sexual misconduct in the wake of the controversy surrounding Katie Brennan’s allegations.
Brennan, a state employee, accused Albert J. Alvarez, another state employee, of raping her when he worked on Murphy’s campaign in 2017. Alvarez kept his job for months after Murphy’s inner circle knew about the accusations. Alvarez denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged.
On Thursday, Murphy also responded to a question about women saying they feared coming forward because of retaliation.
“I say that’s awful — that should never be the case,” the governor said. “That should never be the case. Period.”
Late Thursday afternoon, Weinberg issued a statement in response to what she called the governor’s “tepid” support for the committee she’s forming.
“I was somewhat disappointed that the Governor once again attached a big ‘if’ to his support for the establishment of an ad hoc committee to seek solutions to the toxic climate of misogyny, sexual abuse and harassment that continues to pervade New Jersey politics and government,” said Weinberg, New Jersey’s highest-ranking woman state lawmaker.
She again also called on the governor to release all women who worked on his campaign from non-disclosure agreements they signed.
“The Governor can make a major contribution to changing the climate of misogyny by announcing publicly that he is ordering his campaign lawyers to immediately release all women who worked or volunteered for his campaign from the non-disclosure agreements that threaten them with legal action if they speak publicly about the abuse and harassment they witnessed,” Weinberg said.
In November, Murphy said that any employee from his campaign was free to speak, but he did not address the issue of outside consultants or volunteers.
UPDATE: This story was updated to include a statement from state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.
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