Loretta, the Governor and me

By Steven Goldstein, Chair and CEO, Garden State Equality


          To millions across New Jersey who have suffered discrimination or persecution, Senator Loretta Weinberg has been our leading champion for an entire generation.  Since her election to the State Senate in 1992, Loretta has been a prime sponsor of more than 100 bills enacted into law by Governors of both parties, a record perhaps unmatched by any other state legislator in America.  From anti-discrimination laws that have protected women, people of color, LGBT people and the differently abled, to laws curtailing drunk driving, second-hand smoke, gun violence and school bullying, Loretta’s work has improved the lives of every man, woman and child in our state.

             As a member of a community Loretta has helped time and again through her public leadership and boundless heart, I love her as a second mother.  So when Governor Christie asked the media to “take the bat out on” Loretta at a news conference on Wednesday – a terrible anti-woman metaphor – I and hundreds of other advocates were hurt as if he were referring to a member of our own family.

             Now let me say something that may surprise many of you.  I don’t write this as a hater of Chris Christie.  On a personal level, far from it.  Given my progressive politics and leadership of the state’s LGBT civil rights organization, you might not believe I could have any nice words for the Governor.  But I do, and I want the Governor to know it.  Behind the scenes, he and his Administration have treated my organization with respect and even kindness. 

             Indeed, Governor Christie was fantastic on the anti-bullying law he signed in January.  A couple of weeks earlier, he asked to see me, and did, in a meeting that lasted the better part of an hour.  He was as knowledgeable and open as any other Governor I’ve worked with.   

             Frankly, I wasn’t sure why Governor Christie wanted to meet me.  Apart from my own differences with the NJEA emanating from how it deals with others – which predated this Governor – I am a passionate supporter of unions, including public unions.  I think the world of the Communications Workers of America, for instance, who do a world of public good.

             And let’s face it, the LGBT community isn’t part of his political base.  That made it the Governor’s engaging with me even more impressive.  He has no political reason to do so.  But he made clear he respects my community as an important constituency within the diverse mosaic of New Jersey, and he asked his staff to work with us where possible. 

             Before and after that, they sure have.  What I respect about this Administration is this:   We may not always agree, but yes is yes, no is no, and I’ll get back to you soon means they get back to you soon.  By the way, I just stated publicly what some Democratic officials have stated privately. 

             The Governor and I said flat-out we’d never agree on marriage equality.  But we also agreed there would be no reason we couldn’t work together on other issues for the betterment of New Jersey.  Thus I’ve come to appreciate the Governor as different from than the caricature he’s portrayed to be.

             In that bipartisan spirit, there’s a reason both Democratic and Republican elected officials view Loretta Weinberg with admiration:  You may not agree with where she stands on the issues, but you cannot question her motivations.  She’s 76 and works 14-hour days in a job that is supposed to be part-time, one which most other legislators supplement with well-paying jobs in the private sector or even other jobs in the public sector.  Much of her family, including all her grandchildren, is across the continent in California. 

             But instead of retiring, Loretta continues to devote her life to the public.  And out of concern to taxpayers, she did not collect on her pension until she was 75, for heaven’s sake.

             Governor, you and Loretta have something in common.  As U.S. Attorney, you were unafraid to take on members of both parties who abuse the public trust.  In the legislature, Loretta has been unafraid to take on members of both parties who abuse the public trust.  No one could credibly view her as someone motivated by self-interest.  In a state where the political fortunes of both Democratic and Republican legislators are determined by party machines, has any other legislator dared to take on her own party as relentlessly as Loretta has?

             Indeed, a public servant like Loretta Weinberg shouldn’t be forced into retirement, with her 14-hour day devotion at a $49,000 a year salary in our impossibly expensive state, just to collect a pension.  You bet I’d say that about a Republican, just like I’ve said nice things about a Republican here.  Forcing someone so experienced out of public life because of age – still at the top of her game, still helping millions – is not in the public interest. 

             That’s among the many reasons the media should not “take a bat out on” Loretta.  Respectfully, Governor – and I have made it clear here how very much I respect you – you should not either.

The author is the chairman of Garden State Equality, an advocacy organization for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community Loretta, the Governor and me