On Monday, June 9, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to the current class of young women in the NEW (National Education for Women's) Leadership Program, sponsored by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute of Politics. The event was held at Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, as part of the six-day residential program to educate college women about the political process and to promote civic engagement as these young women take on leadership roles in their own communities.
The panel I was on was "The Difference Women Public Leaders Make," moderated by Serena DiMaso, Deputy Director of the Monmouth Board of Freeholders. Also on the panel were Azra Baig, who has made history as the first South Asian woman and the first Muslim to serve on the South Brunswick School Board; Melissa Orsen, Deputy Commissioner from the NJ Department of Community Affairs; and Councilwoman Toni Angelini of Matawan.
We were asked several questions, such as "What is the single most important piece of advice you would give college women in getting involved in public life?" Other questions focused on keeping balance in one's life as an officeholder, the importance of women being involved in public service, and what inspired us to run for office.
Having just come off a successful re-election run, my answer to the first question was, pretty much, "Have a strong stomach, know who you are, do not be swayed by the attempts to smear your character." I elaborated by doing a show-and-tell of the ridiculous cease-and-desist letter and the lie-filled campaign literature produced by Jerry Green and his buddy, Sen. President Steve Sweeney, and Toliver, Eke, and Taylor, that was used to try to destroy my political career as well as the reputations of my running mates and the mayor. I also referenced the homophobic mailer Green sent out during my first run for office in 2010. The bullying and intimidation tactics used against me resonated with the women.
"He must've really wanted to get rid of you!" one of them said as the material was passed around. I concurred, even as I said that I was presenting myself as a success story. I won. In Column E. In spite of the lies, the smears, and the loathsome tactics used by Jerry Green which, as I told these women, made statewide news, he was exposed as a state-level embarrassment with possibly additional ethical/legal issues in his future.
It was important for me to ensure that these young women understood that they could be successful in standing up to bullying and intimidation, that they could win even if placed in a nearly-impossible ballot position, and that they could maintain their principles and values in a hostile environment by leaders who want nothing more than power and control.
We also discussed the positive aspects of public service, such as getting citizens involved in serving on boards and commissions, passing legislation (such as municipal pay-to-play reform, competitive bidding), getting streets paved, resolving constituent concerns, and passing the annual budget to provide resources to the administration.
After the panel was over, I exchanged cards with several of the young women to follow up on some of the nuts-and-bolts aspects of running for office. Some were interested in running for district committee seats in their home counties, and running for other elective offices, while others were more interested in working on public policy issues, especially in terms of representing issues of prime importance to women specifically (reproductive rights), and current issues of immigration reform, student loan servicing, and voting rights.
I was honored to be a part of this panel, and to meet our next generation of leaders!