Democrat calls Murphy’s defense of staff in rape probe a ‘disservice’
A 123-page report released by the Legislative Select Oversight Committee on Wednesday concludes that top staffers of the Murphy administration botched handling the sexual assault claim made by one state worker against another.
But Gov. Phil Murphy continues to defend his staff, prompting a senior lawmaker in his own party to chide his response.
Katie Brennan, the chief of staff of the New Jersey Housing Authority, went public last year, accusing Al Alvarez of raping her while they both worked to get Phil Murphy elected governor in 2017.
The report found Murphy’s transition team and his inner circle seemed to be more concerned with avoiding negative publicity than following up on allegations made by Brennan, allowing Alvarez to get a top job in the Murphy administration.
The report also found the administration acted irresponsibly and with inadequate concern for the victim by failing to follow up and make sure Alvarez was removed from his position before he wound up resigning in October after he learned Brennan’s story was reported by the Wall Street Journal.
During a series of hearings, top staffers seemed confused about who had actually hired Alvarez and why he wasn’t removed.
During a visit to a North Brunswick pre-K center on Thursday, Murphy was asked to react to the report.
He repeated a statement saying he had ordered an internal review of what had happened, and regulatory changes had been made to avoid a reoccurrence of this kind of situation.
When the governor was asked if he felt it was appropriate to reprimand members of his staff in some manner for completely mishandling the situation, he said: “I believe that the team in my office did what they believed was the right thing, and I stand behind them.”
When a reporter asked Murphy if in light of the findings of the report he thinks there should be some kind of a consequence, he replied he believes with all his heart “that the folks who were involved in this, our team, did at every step of the way what they believed at the time was the right thing.”
Another reporter then followed up with a similar question and Murphy’s response didn’t change.
“The folks involved in this acted in the way they thought was the most responsible, adhering to their ethical and legal obligations at every step of the way and I have no doubt about that.”
When state Senate Majority Leader Senator Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, was informed of what was said, she issued a statement that said “the governor’s response to the select committees careful report is a disservice to the women of New Jersey.”
Murphy also said “should we do something about it ( the behavior of top members of his staff)? My God, we’ve done gobs about this. I’ve just gone through tightening processes, learning from this, tightening state policy."
He stressed helping sexual assault victims is key and he’s determined that “if you have to go through an awful experience like this, and it’s kind of a weird way to say it, New Jersey is number one in the country on the side of the survivors.”
He said he is reviewing the report and “believe me, if there are recommendations that we think will strengthen the processes that we’ve already taken, believe me: we’re openminded to that.���
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com