TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A former government official who says she is a sexual assault survivor is demanding that the New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate stop using her story as a “political prop” in a campaign video that bashes Gov. Phil Murphy.
Katie Brennan, who has said she was sexually assaulted by a peer while they both worked on Murphy's behalf in 2017, said Friday she wasn't consulted before Jack Ciattarelli this week launched PhilMurphyDoesNotCare.com. The site prominently features a video of Brennan publicly testifying before legislators and charges that Murphy uses women as “political props."
She said in a tweet earlier she wasn't a prop or a pawn herself.
“Take it down,” she said Friday.
“I wasn’t consulted prior to the creation of the website and the ad campaign and had I been would have expressed my displeasure with it. It looks like an endorsement of the Ciattarelli campaign, which is not my intent,” she said in a phone interview.
She added: “There is a way to hold people accountable and talk about the mistakes of the past and what their vision and plans for betterment and equity and reform are in the future without dragging me into the fight in a way that I certainly did not ask to be.”
In a statement, Ciattarelli campaign spokesperson Stami Williams praised Brennan and said “she bravely came forward and publicly shared her story," but she did not directly address Brennan's request to remove the video.
“It's an important message and we are committed to ensuring that voters know about Governor Murphy's abysmal record as it relates to women," she said.
A message has also been left with Murphy’s campaign.
The video shows testimony before lawmakers from Brennan, interspersed with text from Ciattarelli saying Murphy chose not to do anything to help her until it negatively impacted him.
This week’s development draws voters’ attention back to the #MeToo movement and the treatment of women in state politics, widely acknowledged to have a toxic history. Before the coronavirus pandemic ground much in state politics to a halt, New Jersey was confronting how women had historically been treated in government, with State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg heading a panel of women to investigate.
The episode also places Brennan once again under the political spotlight nearly three years after her account dominated headlines in the state, and it comes as Murphy seeks to become the first Democrat reelected governor in 44 years. Ciattarelli is running behind Murphy in recent polls.
The former chief of staff at New Jersey's Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, Brennan came forward in 2018 saying she was sexually assaulted by Albert Alvarez in 2017 while both were working to get Murphy elected.
Alvarez denied the allegations. Law enforcement officials declined to bring charges citing a lack of evidence.
Brennan's account launched a legislative inquiry and led Murphy to hire a legal team to investigate the matter as well.
The reviews found that Murphy's staff botched its response to Brennan's repeated attempts to report the alleged assault and found Murphy’s administration appeared more concerned with “avoiding negative publicity” than following procedures to investigate thoroughly.
The Murphy-backed inquiry found that Alvarez was hired for a position in state government despite Brennan's allegations and faulted Murphy's team for hiring. Murphy has said he found out about the hiring only when Brennan's account appeared in the Wall Street Journal.
Brennan also sued the state and Murphy, leading to a $1 million settlement, with most of the money going to charities chosen by Brennan. She has since left state government and now works as an adviser for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Weinberg, a Democrat who was critical of how Murphy and his administration handled Brennan's allegations, stopped short Friday of calling Ciattarelli out by name and instead blasted Republicans generally. In a statement, she suggested that Republicans did not forcefully enough address harassments and assault allegations levied against former President Donald Trump.
“I do not believe that those who have been silent over the four years of the prior Presidency and during the prior Governor have any standing to now try to politicize these issues,” she said.
New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states with regular gubernatorial elections this year. California has a recall election for governor.
Mail-in ballots go out Sept. 18 in New Jersey, with early in-person voting set for Oct. 23-31. Election Day is Nov. 2.
Mike Catalini, The Associated Press