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“Bridgegate” and the T

| Jan 13, 2014
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It has been wild week for politics in New Jersey. Early 2016 GOP Presidential favorite Governor Chris Christie, who some have referred to as the “Teflon Man,” may actually have that impenetrable skin scratched and a new facet of his real character exposed, by the “Bridgegate” scandal. On reflection, some are wondering if the real reason for the order to close lanes on the Fort Lee side of the world’s busiest bridge was not retribution against the Democratic mayor of Ft Lee, but a move against his old political nemesis, a 78 year old Jewish grandmother who is also considered to be the NJ transgender community’s political god-mother, Senator Loretta Weinberg.

It was also a week in which transpeople came together with their lesbian, gay and bisexual “siblings” and took leadership in an organized effort to make “out” LGBT people a visible part of the political infrastructure, notably the Democratic Party in New Jersey.

Let’s get to Bridgegate first … Democratic Mark Sokolich, the mayor of Fort Lee may not have been the real target of “Bridgegate” and may fade into relative obscurity. The initial theory put forth in mainstream media was that the GW Bridge lane closings were intended as retribution against Sokolich for not endorsing the Republican governor in his re-election campaign. However new e-mail evidence suggests that the closings could have been aimed at New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg over the Democrats’ blocking of the Governor’s state Supreme Court nominees.

Fort Lee is in Weinberg’s legislative District. Just one day before his Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly sent an e-mail to the Port Authority suggesting “traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Christie made an extra loud kerfuffle at a press conference complaining about how Weinberg and other Democrats planned to challenge his reappointment of tenured Supreme Court Justice Helen Hoens. Note that at the time they had not actually done so.

“I simply could not be party to the destruction of Helen Hoen’s professional reputation,” a fuming Christie told reporters at an Aug. 12, 2013 at a press conference after he decided to remove Hoens, a Republican, from the bench in order to spare her the ordeal of being challenged. “I was not going to let her loose to the animals.” Animals!

Then, on the morning of Aug. 13, Kelly fired off her now-infamous email — “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee”

The governor had been feuding with Weinberg and the Democrats over Supreme Court nominations dating back to 2010, when the governor torpedoed the reappointment of Justice John E. Wallace, Jr.

“People are speculating now why this was done. The whole thing is bizarre … But I can’t get it through my head,’’ Weinberg said. ”Who said this is a way to exact retaliation on somebody: cause a traffic jam in Fort Lee?”

As a longtime politician, she said, the idea of political payback doesn’t surprise her.

She told the NY Post that Christie’s Aug. 12 tirade ‘’sort of rolled off our backs because we’re kind of used to this behavior.’’ … “Calling the people who were elected to run the state Senate ‘animals.’ …  We disagree with him therefore we are animals.”

My question is what kind of an organizational culture fosters this kind of vindictive mentality?

Weinberg also believes there’s more to the GWB story. “The governor hasn’t come clean yet,’’ she said.

“Either he didn’t want to know or he knows and he’s not telling the truth.”

So far Deputy chief of staff Bridget Ann Kelly has been fired, David Wildstein has resigned his 6 figure Port Authority job, as well as Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni from his 286K job, and Christie’s campaign manager, Bill Stepian, was taken out of contention as the new Chair of the NJ Republican State Committee as well as an advisor to the Republican Governors Association. Chief of Staff O’Dowd’s nomination to be NJ Attoney General has been put on hold. Who is next?

In November 13, 2000, I was proud to be part of a group of Trans and gender variant women, several from Fort Lee, who met with then Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg to introduce ourselves to her and present the reasons to create and amend laws to recognize, include and protect the lives and livelihood of NJ Transpeople. She was welcoming, honest, candid and supportive. Since that time she has been a primary sponsor or cosponsor of every single piece of “T” legislation.

I was a brand “newbie” as a TG activist at that meeting and for the most part was quiet and listened and observed. There was something about her that was real and special, to which I could relate … her candor, her sense of humor. Since no one in our group stepped up, I decided to write The Assemblywoman a letter of thanks for meeting with us — which I suppose was historic — it being the first time a group of openly trans people met with a NJ Legislator. As Loretta was the prime sponsor of the Domestic Partnership legislation, I had a chance to work with her and get some firsthand political, organizing and legislative experience as well as develop a personal relationship. Her family and most of NJ politicians have heard her tell the story about when, during a meeting at her Teaneck office, she received a phone call from California that she had become a grandmother for the first time. Everyone present came up to hug and congratulate her and when I did, I also mentioned that, “I’m a grandfather, you know!” She just smiled and said, “whatever”! We’ve been friends ever since!

NJ LGBT Democratic Caucus

NJ LGBT Democratic Caucus

New Jersey, for all its progressive LGBT laws which have been spearheaded for the most part by Democrats has very few openly LGBT Democrats in the Party infrastructure. In all fairness, historically there have been a significant number of socially liberal and moderate Republicans, it’s just that With Chris Christie in charge… they must follow his lead. Indeed the aforementioned Domestic Partnership law passed in 2003 would not have done so without Republican support.

Even though we have marriage equality, a fully inclusive Law Against Discrimination that covers employment, housing and public accommodations, a hate crimes law, and a school anti-bullying law, there is much more to do to create cultural and societal inclusion and real equality.

The recent Election left one of our 2 legislators with a razor thin win and a perceived lack of financial support from the LGBT community. That is unacceptable! For us to have our Trans Birth Certificate bill only get 19 of the 23 Democratic Senators present was unacceptable. We needed and got 2 Republicans to have it pass.

With 2 out gay state legislators (both Dems) out of 120 and with me, for over 3 years being the only out LGBT person on the State Committee, there is a real problem with perceived inclusion. Starting with a small core group of elected, staffers, activists and operatives, we made direct contact with the State Party, received commitments, and then on January 7th we brought together a focus group of LGBT people who made organizational and financial commitments to create a working and functional LGBT Caucus of the NJ Democratic State Committee (NJDSC). On January 9th the State committee at its reorganizational meeting and election of officers formally added “sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression” to its Mission Statement and By-Laws.

As trans people were present and actively engaged at the table in the Caucus organizational meeting and at the State Committee meeting and reception following, I heard remarks such as , “empowering” and a sense of surprise at the perceived “respect and acceptance” by the others in the room. Things appear bright!

We have much work to do, but we now have a better platform and foundation to get it done!

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Category: Transgender Politics


About the Author ()

Babs at 76 passed away in 2019. She was a member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic National Committee, Deputy Vice Chair of the NJ Democratic State Committee and Political Director of the Gender Rights Advocacy Association of NJ. She served on the Executive Committee of Trans United 4 Obama. She has served as Vice Chair of the DNC Eastern Caucus, was President of NJ Stonewall Democrats, Co-Chair of National Stonewall Democrats Federal PAC Board, Vice-Chair of Garden State Equality, Executive Board member of National Stonewall Democrats as Chair of the DNC Relations Committee and a member of the NJ Civil Unions Review Commission.

Comments (3)

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  1. Babs Babs says:

    I think all libertarians would have an interest in the TG birth Certificate bill that Christie just vetoed. Indeed the “liberal” Loretta Weinberg was one of the Prime Sponsors … it would take a big government bureaucrat out of the picture to decide if you could change your gender marker and give that decision to your licensed medical provider… and Christie and his Republicans kept big government in charge! yeah … that is why I’m a “recovering republican”. Wake up it’s 2014 and time to walk the walk

  2. j2emily j2emily says:

    this is a real stretch for the TG Forum. While I’m not a big fan of the Governor–to include this stuff in the Forum is just propaganda. Believe it or not–a lot of us are Libertarians and ,yes, even Republicans. Keep the politics out!

    • angela_g angela_g says:

      Sorry Emily. Babs is our political correspondent and she happens to be a Democrat. If something in the political landscape affects transgender rights then it’s part of TGForum. If you note, the post is in the “opinion” category as well as politics.

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