NJ Politics Digest: Hearings on Sex Assault Scandal to Begin

State lawmakers’ investigation into Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration over its handling of a staffer’s sexual assault allegation has ratcheted up distrust between the governor the leaders of the New Jersey State Legislature.

New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.
New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. Kena Betancur/Getty Images

The acrimony between Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders from his own party is well known. But as the legislature prepares for hearings on Murphy and his administration’s handling of sexual assault allegations against a highly placed member of the governor’s campaign staff, the relationship has become downright frosty.

According to an NJ.com report, Murphy hasn’t met privately with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin in nearly two months. Murphy’s call to raise the state minimum wage remains stalled, as well as the legislature’s plan to legalize and tax the recreational use of marijuana.

But the business of the people isn’t the only thing suffering from the rift. The NJ.com report also notes that state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg was told she would not get tickets to a Jets football game from the governor’s office after she called for an investigation on how the state responded to sexual assault allegations against Albert J. Alvarez.

Alvarez worked as director of Latin and Muslim outreach for Murphy’s campaign and then as the chief of staff of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority. Former campaign volunteer Katie Brennan claims Alvarez sexually assaulted her in April 2017. Brennan says she told state officials about the incident and tried, without success, to provide Murphy with the details. But nothing happened for 18 months, and so Ms. Brennan went to the Wall Street Journal with her story. Murphy, who emailed Brennan telling her to “hang in there” and that “we are on it,” has claimed that he did not know of the allegations until Mr. Alvarez resigned his $140,000-a-year job after the Journal story appeared.

Alvarez denies assaulting Brennan and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office declined to pursue charges. Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez said she knows Alvarez, but that their acquaintance had nothing to do with the decision. The prosecutor said that she did not know her office was investigating Brennan’s claim.

After Brennan’s allegations became public, state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal ordered the Middlesex County Prosecutors Office to re-examine the case. Last week, Grewal told lawmakers there was no evidence Suarez acted improperly. But, in an interview with NJ.com, Ms. Brennan said neither Grewal nor his staff contacted her. Grewal told lawmakers that his investigation precludes the need for them to investigate the matter, InsiderNJ reports.

Quote of the Day: “I am deeply discouraged that the attorney general’s office could rush to its conclusion without…even requesting to speak with me,” — Katie Brennan, on State Attorney Gurbir S. Grewal’s investigation supporting Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez’s decision not to pursue Brennan’s sexual assault allegations against a highly placed member of Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration.

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NJ Politics Digest: Hearings on Sex Assault Scandal to Begin