Emails from election law watchdog reveal bizarre fixation on LGBTQ community

Every queer person knows what it’s like to be stuck at a holiday dinner next to someone who makes us cringe when they speak.

Sometimes they don’t say anything outright offensive — nothing that would get bleeped on network television — but often what comes out of their mouths represents a relic of a more troubling time for us.

That’s the feeling I get reading Jeff Brindle’s emails.

Brindle is the executive director of the Election Law Enforcement Commission, which is tasked with keeping an eye on politicians and making sure they disclose their donors properly, don’t spend campaign cash illegally, and update the public on their finances.

He’s come under fire recently because of an email he sent to a staffer in October mocking National Coming Out Day. State officials said in a memo the New Jersey Monitor obtained this week that the email was a blatant violation of the state’s anti-discrimination policy, and Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has made moves to oust Brindle over it.

When I first read it, I thought, well, I’d probably complain to someone if my boss sent me this, but I might be satisfied if they got a reminder about what’s appropriate to say in work emails. I don’t know if I’d push for them to be fired.

But Brindle didn’t keep his snark about the LGBTQ community confined to that one email, according to a batch obtained via the Open Public Records Act by CJ Griffin, a transparency advocate and attorney who has represented the New Jersey Monitor.

In June, state officials sent a staff-wide email noting it was Pride month and suggesting employees consider adding their pronouns to their email signature. Brindle forward to an unknown person with this comment: “Give me a break.”

To a staffer who shared a story about a gay pride stunt courtesy of Burger King in Austria, Brindle wrote, “Unbelievable.”

He shared a July story from conservative news site Town Hall about a trans woman who impregnated two inmates in New Jersey’s women’s prison. He wrote, “We truly are living through insane times.”

In July, Breitbart wrote about Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas — a transgender woman whose participation in women’s sports made her a nationwide target — not being named NCAA’s woman of the year. Brindle sent the link to a staffer. “Lia lost this one,” he wrote.

Other emails that contain links to news stories with no comment from Brindle reveal a fixation with queer folks. He shared a story on parents griping about a Pride celebration in their kids’ middle school; a Town Hall story about a trans woman who regrets transitioning and criticized gender-affirming health care; and a Breitbart story about a Pride month social media post from the U.S. Marine Corps.

I emailed Brindle asking him if the emails betray any personal animus toward the LGBTQ community. He did not respond.

I wrote last week about my opposition to Murphy’s move to force out Brindle by hijacking control of the Election Law Enforcement Commission (a bill under consideration by the Legislature would give Murphy the sole power to remove the current commissioners and replace them all). Nothing in Brindle’s emails makes me reconsider this, since I don’t think the governor should gain this power just to target one person.

But that doesn’t mean the commissioners shouldn’t examine Brindle’s behavior at work. If he’s using his work email to trade anti-LGBTQ stories with staffers, what does that mean about how he treats his subordinates from that community? What does it say about the overall environment of his office? Is the stuff he says out loud worse than what he commits to writing, in documents he knows can be publicly revealed?

And why are Brindle and other commission employees exchanging work emails during work hours about subjects irrelevant to their jobs, like transgender swimmers who live in another state or PR gimmicks by Burger King in Austria? Could this be why the commission’s investigations move at a glacial pace?

Griffin told me when she first heard about the National Coming Out Day email, it set off “alarm bells” and made her wonder whether there was more going on, “especially since it seemed unlikely that a single email would cause Murphy to demand a resignation.”

“I also doubted that his actions were just a ‘power grab.’ I always tell my clients to ‘OPRA the emails,’ so I did. As is often the case, transparency revealed that there is indeed more to the story,” Griffin said.

Brindle’s commissioners are holding a meeting next week to discuss the matter. Garden State Equality, the state’s LGBTQ rights group, is demanding Brindle resign, saying the emails reveal Brindle’s workplace “is steeped in a toxic brine of biases which has no place in a civilized society.”

“We are disgusted by his visible contempt for the LGBTQ community. This is even more shocking as it is spewed from his official government email account, which carries with it the imprimatur of an official government position,” the group’s statement reads.

One last thing, about the National Coming Out Day email. In that one, Brindle emailed a staffer in reference to an Oct. 11, 2022, email from state government noting that day was National Coming Out Day.

“Are you coming out?” Brindle wrote to the unidentified staffer. “No Lincoln or Washington‘s Birthday’s [sic] but we can celebrate national coming out day.”

But: We do celebrate Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays — it’s called Presidents Day. And Brindle, as a state employee, had a paid day off to commemorate it. He did not get one for National Coming Out Day.

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence McDonald for questions: Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.

Attorney general says ironworkers union official retaliated against Black workers

The New Jersey chapter of an international ironworkers union is facing allegations that one of its officers gave preferential job treatment to its white workers, denied Black workers a chance to work on high-profile lucrative jobs, and retaliated against a worker who complained about his use of a common racial epithet.

New Jersey’s civil rights division on Tuesday announced it is moving forward with a complaint filed by one of the union’s Black members that alleges she and other Black union workers received one- or two-day assignments while their white coworkers nabbed such long-term jobs as those at Newark airport, the Bayonne Bridge, and the American Dream mall.

The union, Ironworkers Local 11, a local chapter of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers Union, AFL-CIO, did not return a request for comment. In a statement to state officials investigating the matter, the union denied the Black union member’s allegations.

In a statement, acting Attorney General Matt Platkin said he is “deeply troubled” by the woman’s complaint.

“We will never waver in our commitment to fighting racial discrimination in our state,” Platkin said.

The woman, who is unnamed in Platkin’s statement outlining the allegations, has been a Local 11 member since 1988. She alleges Raymond Woodall, the former business manager for Local 11, used racial slurs to refer to Black union members. She told state officials in a complaint to the civil rights division that the quality and duration of her work assignments diminished after she confronted him about his actions.

One of Local 11’s members recorded a conversation during which Woodall used racial slurs. State officials were provided with a copy of the recording and verified it is Woodall on it, Platkin’s statement says.

Woodall could not be reached for comment.

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence McDonald for questions: Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.

Democrats, stop counting on Trump to win elections for you

Democrats may need an intervention to end their Donald Trump addiction, if Tuesday's election results didn't already send that message.

Take Gov. Phil Murphy's campaign. From his campaign flyers — every one I received had Trump as its main image — to the “Stop the Trump Team" signs that lined Route 3 in the days before Election Day, a casual voter may have assumed Murphy's challenger was the former president, not Jack Ciattarelli.

It was much the same, perhaps worse, in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe could barely utter a sentence about his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, without mentioning Trump. Youngkin defeated McAuliffe Tuesday after voters all over that very Democratic state lurched right.

Murphy is probably going to defeat Ciattarelli, despite the Election Day scare the Republican gave the incumbent (the Associated Press called the race for Murphy Wednesday night). But if Murphy ekes out a victory here, he should blame his meager margin — and his party's loss of winnable seats around the state — in part on his campaign's insistence on using Trump as a boogeyman to scare Democrats and independent voters into voting for him.

There are plenty of reasons why the Ciattarelli campaign was able to eat into Murphy's margin. Republicans loathe Murphy for his COVID restrictions — his recent mandate that even toddlers should wear masks in school is a particular sore point — and they believe the governor got a pass for the thousands of nursing home deaths in the early months of the pandemic. Biden's anemic job approval ratings didn't help.

But the Murphy camp's Trump fixation probably cost them the votes of persuadable Democrats and independent voters who either sat Tuesday out or voted for Ciattarelli because the Republican was talking about New Jersey, not the former president. And dwelling on Trump probably energized GOP voters instead of reminding them their most recent president is an embarrassment.

I talked to Mike DuHaime, a longtime strategist for Chris Christie, who told me Democrats should have known raising the specter of Trump would not have the same effect in November 2021 that it did while Trump was president. Despite how “irresistible" Democratic operatives find Trump, he said, voters want to look forward, not backward.

DuHaime finds all this reminiscent of 2009, when then-Gov. Jon Corzine “spent millions" tying Christie to George W. Bush to help sink Christie's gubernatorial campaign. Bush's approval was still mired in the mid-30s back then, but Corzine's attempts to highlight Christie's ties to the former president failed to resonate enough to prevent Christie from unseating Corzine. Voters were more interested in New Jersey's problems than Christie's previous work for W.

“You don't have to look that far back in history to learn the exact lesson we just learned," DuHaime said.

I am no fan of Trump. I think he's personally odious. His apparent hijacking of the federal government to try to derail Joe Biden's election win, plus his instigation of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, is a travesty. And it was fair to ding Ciattarelli for appearing at a “stop the steal" rally and then making up a laughable story that he didn't know the true purpose of the event.

But, at the risk of getting very Frank Capra here, voters — not Democratic foot soldiers, but voters who worry about rising gas prices and COVID-19 and stubbornly high property taxes — want to hear about solutions to those problems, not four months of threats that a vote for [fill in the blank] is really a vote for Donald Trump.

Tuesday's results, especially in Virginia but also in parts of New Jersey, bear that out. Democrats lost legislative races in South and Central Jersey, handed myriad other seats around the state to the GOP — Republicans may win Passaic County commissioner seats! — and put the governorship in jeopardy because instead of arguing they deserve to run Trenton, they thought Trump would do the work for them.

New Jersey Monitor is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence McDonald for questions: Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.