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TRENTON, NJ–Bob Smith, one of New Brunswick’s elected representatives, ordered State Troopers to arrest members of the public who clapped and cheered at a public hearing of one his committees on November 18.
Governor Phil Murphy criticized the committee for its decision to have one activist in particular removed from the hearing, calling it “completely outrageous and unacceptable.”
“Every senator on that committee owes her a direct apology,” Murphy said in a post on his Facebook and Twitter pages. “Dissent will always be a part of our American fabric.”
A large crowd had come out for the hearing, which featured testimony about the impact of controversial NJ Economic Development Authority tax breaks on the City of Camden.
The main attraction was a rare public appearance from George Norcross III, the state’s most notorious political boss.
Norcross’ arrival at the hearing room prompted loud booing from the standing room only crowd.
“I will note that, for some reason–I can’t even imagine what it is, there is a huge turnout today and, that being said, we run an orderly process,” said Smith, warning in advance that he may sic the police on the disorderly.
“I don’t think anybody would ever attempt to make a meeting a political spectacle, but be advised if you wanna shout or boo or act in a disorderly way, I’m authorizing the State Troopers that are here… if anybody behaves in a disorderly way, you can escort them out.”
Once the hearing began, however, the protesters listened to the first round of testimony quietly without incident.
After labor union leader Charlie Wowkanech finished answering the final question posed by the committee, some people in the room applauded his statement politely. Others briefly raised their voices to cheer or jeer.
But this, the most minor of outbursts to be expected in such a setting, caused Senator Smith to snap into dictator mode, leading to almost six minutes of chaos and disorder as protesters objected to Smith’s abuse of power and police got physical with at least one woman.
“So I pointed out that that conduct is going to be unacceptable. That entire back line cheered, clapped,” said Smith. “Officers, remove the entire back line that’s standing up.”
But at least one officer went straight for Sue Altman, the leader of a growing protest movement against Norcross.
Altman, who became the leader of the NJ Working Families Alliance earlier this year, was forcibly removed from the hearing room by several State Troopers in a grotesque scene captured on dozens of cameras.
Former New Brunswick Today reporter Daniel Munoz, now with NJBIZ, captured much of the altercation on video.
Altman twice fell to the ground as multiple State Troopers put their hands on her and forced her out of the committee room, while the crowd repeatedly cheered: “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
“Troopers, we have to get on with our business,” said Smith, as the chaos he created continued to delay his proceedings. “If they continue to disrupt the hearing, not only take them out, but please arrest them.”
One longtime journalist said he had never seen anything like it in more than two decades at the Statehouse.
“I can hardly believe what I just witnessed: The State Police grabbing Sue Altman by the arms, and muscling her out of the Senate hearing room,” wrote columnist Tom Moran, a member of the Star-Ledger Editorial Board.
Moran noted that no actual testimony had been disrupted, and wrote “it seemed to me like a massive overreaction to eject them.”
State Police did not immediately respond to requests for information and records of the arrests and charges.
Altman told reporters she was charged with disorderly conduct by the Police.
“Today, George Norcross and his political allies resorted to thuggery and violence to silence the voices of Camden residents and advocates seeking to make their voices heard on the ongoing [tax] incentives scandal,” Altman said.
A group of progressives in Smith’s hometown, Piscataway, lambasted the longtime Senator after the incident, stating it confirmed what was already known about the controversial political figure.
“Bob Smith is a bully and a coward who cannot tolerate any dissent to his imperial conception of public service, particularly when that dissent comes from women,” read a statement from the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats, a faction within Smith’s party that challenged him in the 2017 primary election.
Senator Smith did not immediately respond to a question from New Brunswick Today asking if he would be apologizing for his abuse of power.
Editor’s Note: The author of this article is a proud member of the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.