In her quest to be a State Senator, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle has decided to take on party leaders.
Vainieri Huttle declared she will not participate in the Bergen County Democratic Convention on March 15 due to what she perceives as Bergen County Chairman Paul Juliano pressuring members to back Assemblyman Gordon Johnson for the State Senate seat being vacated by Loretta Weinberg retiring.
“I first announced my intention to run for State Senate in January. Immediately, it became clear that the decks had been stacked in favor of my opponent,” wrote Vainieri Huttle in her letter Feb. 23 to Juliano announcing her decision to forego seeking the Bergen County Democratic line. “Despite your promises that you would remain a neutral party, I have heard again and again that you are behind Gordon Johnson.”
Vainieri Huttle in a press briefing the next day claimed “it has been blatantly obvious that you have been pulling the strings behind the scenes. It has been evident from the start that I would not be given the courtesy of an open and fair process.”
The assemblywoman further alleged that elected leaders in Hackensack and Fort Lee that would personally support her candidacy have been forced to back Johnson.
“(While believing) that I am the best candidate for this position, they have been forced to endorse Gordon Johnson,” alleged Vainieri Huttle. “Arm twisting has never yielded a fair outcome—nor a good one, it certainly is not now.”
Vainieri Huttle claims despite her record as a barrier-breaking woman in government, Juliano has made the decision as Bergen County’s Democratic Chair that now is not her time and should back down from a State Senate run to remain in the Assembly.
“I am truly perplexed why you have made the decision to shut out a qualified candidate before this race even started,” wrote Vainieri Huttle. “It is not in the best interest of our party and certainly not in the best interest of winning this November.”
The assemblywoman continued “too often, the drive and ambition of women who want to use their voice to make a difference is dismissed with a ‘it’s not your turn.’ If I walked away every time men like you told me to back off, I never would have been elected in the first place.”
Misogyny in Politics
Vainieri Huttle said her decision was far more than about her candidacy, but about the disrespect that she has experienced as a woman throughout this process.
“My decision to run my campaign in an open primary is about the systemic issue of women’s voices being silenced in New Jersey politics,” she said. “I will continue to play my part in building a future for Democrats where the voices of women are uplifted, not silenced.”
The Englewood resident said that she is taking the action so that her name appears on the ballot for the June primary and not allow a predetermined outcome to shape the future of District 37. Her ticket will include Councilwomen Lauren Dayton of Tenafly and Gervonn Romney-Rice of Teaneck who will be running for the two open Assembly seats in the 37th Legislative District.
“I will fight for a true democratic process that ensures the voices of the thousands of people in District 37 are truly heard,” stated Vainieri Huttle. “As a proud Democrat, I believe in safeguarding and strengthening our democracy. As an active participant in Bergen County’s political process, I believe that we must ensure an open and fair process for candidates and voters.”
The Assemblywoman plans to run on her reputation as one of Trenton’s most effective leaders, authoring landmark laws that have benefited the communities in the district.
“Representing your community is about a lot more than pressing the yea or nay button, it is about listening to people, hearing their concerns and using government to get good things done,” she said. “That is how we grow stronger and that is how we earn the support of rank and file Democrats.”
Johnson will now run on the organization line with Gov. Phil Murphy, with the two announced candidates for the Assembly, Palisades Park Mayor Christopher Chung and Teaneck Democratic Municipal Chair Alexandria Soriano-Taveras.