‘I was stalked, harassed, surveilled,’ ex-candidate tells panel on sexual harassment in N.J. politics

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About 75 people joined the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics public hearing on Wednesday. The hearing was held via a Zoom video meeting because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Kelly Heyboer/)

Tiffany Kaszubasaid her bid last year to run for Congress representing New Jersey’s 4th District began with great promise. But it quickly turned into a nightmare.

Kaszuba said a former member of the Monmouth County Democrats’ executive committee who volunteered to help with her campaign began displaying disturbing behavior, including obsessively calling and texting her, yelling at her and posting her photos on social media.

When she complained to Democratic party officials about the man, longtime party fixture Bill Robinson, she said they did little to help her. She eventually dropped out of the race, going public with her complaints last December.

“I was stalked, harassed, surveilled, bullied and publicly berated and humiliated by Mr. Robinson on a nearly daily basis,” Kaszuba said Wednesday, detailing the experience at a hearing on the “toxic culture” for women in New Jersey politics.

Kaszuba was one of eight women who testified during an online video conference of the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogynyin New Jersey Politics. The hearing was the last of three public forums where women could testify about their own experiences or offer their advice to the panel of lawmakers, lobbyists and advocates looking for ways to improve the treatment of women in state and local politics.

In Kaszuba’s case, Monmouth County political officials denied last year that they mishandled her complaints and some lawmakers promised reforms. Robinson, who previously pleaded guilty in 1996 to stalking and was put on probation for five years, has never publicly responded to her allegations. He did not respond to a request to comment.

It is with great disappointment that as of today I am resigning from my campaign for NJ CD 4. pic.twitter.com/eSQNmw9KUa

— Tiffany Kaszuba (@TiffanyKaszuba)

Kaszuba, who did not allege Robinson did anything sexual, said her experience of being dismissed and ignored by political leaders isn’t unique.

“The costs of the current toxic environment are just too high, especially for women,” an emotional Kaszuba told the panel, who were watching her testimony from their homes.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, founded the workgroup in response to a Dec. 29 NJ Advance Media report on sexual harassment in local and state politics.The members, who include Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, are gathering information about the “toxic culture” in and around the Statehouse. They plan to offer recommendations for policy changes.

The group, which held hearings in Fort Lee and Mount Laurelbefore the coronavirus pandemic banned in-person meetings, said Wednesday’s video meeting would be its last public session.

The panel will meet again at 3 p.m. Thursday in a confidential session to hear from people who did not want to share their experiences in public. (Those who want to share their testimony at the private hearing can register at https://tinyurl.com/PrivateNJHarassmentForum.)

“Interest has not waned or the desire to share stories has not waned,” Weinberg said.

Weinberg said the workgroup plans to hold at least two other private sessions. The first will be a confidential meeting with an unnamed group that asked to speak to the panel. The second will be an in-depth meeting with Katie Brennan, a former campaign volunteer who recently settled a $1 million lawsuit against the state and Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign over how her rape complaint was handled.

Brennan testified publicly before the panel in March about a lengthy list of changes she’d like to see make to various policies surrounding sexual harassment and sexual assault in state governmentand on campaigns.

The other women who shared their stories at Wednesday’s hearing included an anonymous former campaign worker who said she was regularly sexually harassed, subjected to sexual comments and propositioned while working in politics in her 20s and 30s.

“It was the rule, not the exception," her testimony said.

The woman, who has since left New Jersey and politics, recounted several inappropriate comments she received at after-hours parties following the annual League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City, one of the state’s key political gatherings. They included an unnamed lawmaker asking her if she was a prostitute, her testimony said.

Janice Kovach, the incoming president of the League of Municipalities, said the group recognizes that there has been inappropriate behavior at many of the parties and receptions sponsored by outside groups at the convention.

The league plans to make changes, including instituting a new code of conduct, printing a phone number on the back of every convention badge where people can report sexual misconduct and offering more sexual harassment training, Kovach testified.

“We’re committed to rooting out this toxic culture from our political environment,” said Kovach, the mayor of Clinton.

The other women who testified at the hearing included Anjali Mehrotra, president of state chapter of National Organization for Women, who said Weinberg’s workgroup needs to expand its focus to also consider how race plays a factor in how women of color are mistreated and ignored in New Jersey politics.

“The goal should not just be diversity, we should strive for inclusion," Mehrotra said.

The New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a statewide advocacy group, also used the hearing to release the preliminary results of a survey of 500 people on the culture in New Jersey politics. Those surveyed included advocates, politicians and those who work in state politics and government.

Overall, about 39% of respondents said misogyny is “extremely prevalent” in New Jersey politics and 36% said sexual harassment is “very prevalent," said Marissa Marzano, the coalition’s communications manager.

“We did note an interesting divergence here between male and female respondents,” Marzano said.

While nearly half of the women who responded to the survey said misogyny was “extremely prevalent” in New Jersey politics and government, only 13% of men agreed. Even less men though sexual harassment was a big problem in state politics.

The full results of the survey will be released at the end of June. Weinberg said there is no timetable yet for when the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogynywill release its findings and recommendations.

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Kelly Heyboermay be reached at kheyboer@njadvancemedia.com.

Susan K. Liviomay be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com.

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