TRENTON – New Jersey politics are grappling with a frigid thriller.
Two weeks after police dragged progressive activist Sue Altman out of a Statehouse courtroom for no apparent reason, political insiders are engrossed in all the details surrounding this year’s most viral moment in Garden politics State.
It all started when George E. Norcross III, the South Jersey Democratic power broker, testified about a controversial tax incentive scheme he was accused of manipulating (he denied committing wrongdoing). Altman, his harshest critic, has come up with a group of supporters to confront him. After the hearing began, boos rang out, the committee chairman ordered state police to “clear the back row,” and instead they walked over to Altman, who was standing in another part. of the room.
Altman, the head of the state’s Working Families Alliance, said she texted and made no noise until she was dragged outside and issued a police summons.
Journalists captured the moment in photos and video. The confrontation quickly ricocheted across social media, with many calling it blatant abuse of power. The New Jersey attorney general’s office and state police conduct formal reviews. Governor Phil Murphy said “Every senator on this committee owes him a direct apology. »Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren weighed in, calling Altman’s ejection “scandalous”.
“There are moments that capture the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times,” said Ben Dworkin, director of public policy at Rowan University. “The impeachment of Sue Altman is one of those moments.”
It also became a watershed moment for Altman and his campaign to remake New Jersey politics. Campaigners used the footage to reinforce their rallying cry that unelected people like Norcross, a Camden-based insurance executive, have outsized control in New Jersey.
“I think it’s such a visual story,” said Brigid Callahan Harrison, professor of political science and law at Montclair State University. “That’s what wins now.”
John Currie, the leader of the state’s Democratic Party seeking re-election to the post, used a photo of Inquirer on a campaign sender and added a bright yellow arrow pointed at Norcross with the question: “IS THIS WHO DO WE WANT TO CONTROL OUR DEMOCRATIC PARTY? Currie is an ally of Murphy’s and an enemy of Norcross.
State police will not make the findings of their review public, “in line with standard practice,” said Sharon Lauchaire, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office. Majority Leader State Senator Loretta Weinberg this week called for it to be done.
“The decision to deport the protester was made solely by state police,” said Richard McGrath, spokesperson for the New Jersey Senate Democrats. “If they do not comply with the request by [Weinberg] to disclose the findings of the report, we will use the subpoena power to make it public.
The legislature has a number of issues to deal with, including the decriminalization of marijuana, immigrant rights, and pension reform. But the removal of Altman dominates the conversation.
“It seems to pull the air out of the room,” lamented State Senator Declan O’Scanlon (R., Monmouth). But, he added, “there is serious debate as to whether she was targeted intentionally.”
There are many theories as to how and why Altman was abolished, all of them unfounded and some far-fetched. But New Jersey political insiders have even started circulating and dissecting videos of the incident for clues.
Norcross spokesman Dan Fee said the buzz was not helpful. “A small group of people talking to each other and the media on Twitter is not what I would describe as ‘taking the oxygen out of the room,’ Fee said. it is about winning elections or changing policies, these same activists have failed time and time again. “
“No one in the Senate wanted a member of the public to be denied the opportunity to remain in the room for the hearing,” said McGrath, speaking on behalf of Sweeney and State Senator Bob Smith, who has presided over the hearing.
Some, including Sweeney, said Altman – who admits she was there to protest – orchestrated her own dismissal. They point to her tweet moments before her dismissal, when she said, “Not arrested !! (Still).”
“I’m disappointed with the way it turned out,” Sweeney said, according to Politico. “But she planned to be arrested, she even said so. She got the attention she wanted.”
“It was a joke in response to a tweet before“Altman replied.” I admit we wanted to be loud and I told reporters they could look for disturbances. … If the Working Families Party had a plan to get arrested, it would be much more spectacular and civil disobedience. “
Amid the fever that followed the incident, Norcross, in an appearance the next day reported by NJ.com, said he was “disappointed” with her removal, but “had never met her before. I didn’t know who she was.”
Altman also spoke about the city at an annual political convention called “The League,” which began in Atlantic City the day after the hearing. Altman attended.
“When Sue entered the room, all eyes were on her,” said Anne-Marie Principe, lobbyist and regular attendee of the convention. “Most lawmakers really didn’t know what to do and how to handle it. “
Even bona fide Liberal lawmakers have been caught in the crosshairs. Weinberg, long seen as a mentor to New Jersey activists, released a statement after the hearing praising committee members “for their work on the difficult issue of tax incentives and economic growth, despite the disruption. of today’s hearing “.
Following a chorus of criticism from Altman supporters, Weinberg offered a different perspective a week later.
“I don’t remember ever seeing anything like the embarrassing moments, which were then captured in many photos, as Sue Altman was literally dragged out of the room,” Weinberg said on facebook.
On Tuesday, Weinberg stressed the importance of an official disclosure of the facts.
“While we have no reason to believe the state soldiers have done anything wrong,” she said in a statement, “reviewing their actions and decisions will help maintain confidence public”.