Some 10 weeks after Gov. Chris Christie nominated her to become New Jersey’s commissioner of Children and Families, Janet Rosenzweig withdrew her name from consideration April 16.
In the aftermath, Republican and Democratic state senators blamed one another for stopping her from being confirmed.
Despite the back and forth, the key stumbling block to Rosenzweig’s confirmation was over a job she held for just nine months. From September 2008 to May 2009 she was acting executive director of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, an organization known as “Quad-S.”
Some critics said the society did not do enough to condemn sexual contacts between children and adults.
But even the member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who questioned Rosenzweig most vigorously on the topic said he regretted her withdrawal.
“I asked her tough questions because they were going to be asked, one way or another,” State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Dist. 39), ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told NJ Jewish News. “Everything I learned about her told me she would make a very good person for this job.”
To Cardinale, a conservative Republican and a Rosenzweig supporter, her withdrawal was “one of the worst miscarriages of our obligations as senators I have ever seen. She was obviously able. She didn’t just pass muster. She was an exceptional appointee, and to knock her down for partisan political reasons was very unfortunate.”
As for who was being partisan, Democrats and Republicans disagree.
A Republican legislator familiar with the Rosenzweig nomination suggested Democrats were to blame.
The legislator, who requested anonymity, told NJJN, “You have to take this against the backdrop of what is going on. We have a Republican governor and a Democratic Senate. Janet suffered from politics. That was her downfall.”
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37), another member of the Judiciary Committee, agreed. But Weinberg said it was the Republicans, not the Democrats, who torpedoed the Rosenzweig nomination.
“This is conjecture, but maybe the Christie administration was getting pressure from the right wing of the Republican Party,” she said.
“Rosenzweig is clearly pro-choice. She gave an appropriate answer as to whether she would approve same-sex couples as foster parents. She said, yes, if they could provide a loving, safe environment for a child. It was interesting to watch some of the Republicans” in their reacting to this statement.
“Had the Democrats put up someone like that,” Weinberg said, “Republicans would have been screaming and voting ‘no.’ But in this case the Republicans voted 11 to one for her nomination.”
But, Weinberg said, other Democrats did have questions “as to how you can be the executive director of an organization and not know what its programs are.”
These Democrats, she said, wanted the committee to reconsider the nomination before it reached the Senate floor.
In a brief letter to the governor, Rosenzweig wrote that “the effort required to continue in the [confirmation] process is distracting from the important work of this department.”
“I am proud of the nomination I made, and I wish Janet the best in her professional career,” Christie responded in a terse e-mailed press release.
During a lengthy interview with NJJN on March 18, while she was serving as acting commissioner, Rosenzweig said she developed “a strong commitment to easing the pain of children” during her years as a teenage volunteer at the Federation of Jewish Agencies’ day care center in her hometown of Philadelphia.
Between 1994 and 2007 she served as executive director of Prevent Child Abuse in New Jersey and a director of the Mercer County Department of Human Services.
Although Rosenzweig said her role with “Quad-S” was strictly as “a financial adviser to the organization,” some Judiciary Committee members were troubled by some of its founders’ research.
“I am unequivocally opposed to sexual encounters between adults and children,” Rosenzweig said during the confirmation hearing. “I have spent my career working to ensure that doesn’t happen.”
“There were questions about her affiliation,” State Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Dist. 16), the sole member of the Judiciary Committee to oppose her nomination, told NJJN.
Said the Republican legislator who requested anonymity: “Some of my right-wing friends were very suspicious of her because of her connections with Quad-S, but she did not share some of the attitudes of Quad-S which are subject to criticism. I am convinced her role was more like a functionary, almost like a bookkeeper, as opposed to someone who had anything to do with policy.”
Weinberg said she spoke with a Quad-S board member who satisfied her that the organization performed scientific studies on such issues as adult-child sex “but certainly did not promote such behavior. That answered it to my satisfaction.”
Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Dist. 21), the State Senate’s minority leader, told NJJN he would “not answer hypothetical questions” about whether partisan politics played a role in squelching her nomination.
“My role as leader of the Republican caucus was if there were further questions of a nominee of the governor’s it was appropriate to refer it back it the Judiciary Committee,” he said.
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Nicholas Scutari (D-Dist. 22) said Rosenzweig “was entitled to a fair hearing, and I know she would have gotten it. She might have made it out, but I’m not sure.”
Rosenzweig was not available for comment.