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Veteran politician has been waiting her whole life for this

Loretta Weinberg
Dale Mezzacappa

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Loretta Weinberg has a prime view of the podium from her seat as a delegate from New Jersey this week at the Democratic National Convention.

Born a mere 15 years after women won the universal right to vote in 1920, the New Jersey Senate majority leader can hardly believe she has lived to see this happen – this, of course, being the nomination of a woman for president by a major party.

When Weinberg was a young mother interested in politics in her hometown of Teaneck, N.J., a bedroom community a few miles from the George Washington Bridge, women were called on to do a lot of hard work, but only behind the scenes.

“There weren’t many open doors for women, not many welcomes, and certainly no invitations," Weinberg recalled. "When I first started, we would sit in our backyards and make voter lists – that was way before computers – while the kids were running around.”

Their role involved the League of Women Voters and candidate teas and supporting their husbands and sometimes their sons.

“We rarely thought of running for office ourselves.”

In time, she became an aide to New Jersey Senate President Matthew Feldman, who was also from Teaneck. That’s when I met her as a young reporter for the Bergen Record back in the 1970s. Female political reporters weren’t common at that time either, so Weinberg was the one who made sure that I was kept in the loop.

But she herself didn’t run for office until she was in her 50s. After decades of toiling in the trenches, she ran for Teaneck’s Borough Council in 1990. She took a seat in the State Assembly – first appointed to fill a vacancy, then elected in her own right – and served there until 2005, when she was elected to the New Jersey Senate. The only election she ever lost was in 2009, when she ran for lieutenant governor with Gov. Jon Corzine, who lost to Chris Christie.

Like all politicians, her path upwards was marked by a few controversies and intraparty battles, but she has persevered. Most recently, she was key in exposing the Bridgegate scandal, in which the Christie adminstration was found to have closed George Washington Bridge lanes as retaliation against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing the governor.

I asked her about why it is important for women to hold office. She has thought a lot about this.

“We have a different set of experiences," she said. "We are very often the caregivers, often of our children and of our parents. Women are the ones who make the health-care decisions in a family and often carry on the double role of full-time working people and family obligations. And we are the child bearers."

She cited health care and government transparency when asked of her priorities as a legislator.

Weinberg believes that the country is ready for a female president and that Hillary Clinton is ready to be president. When President Obama said that Clinton is the most qualified person ever to run for the office, he was undoubtedly thinking of her service as a first lady involved in policy, a senator from New York, and secretary of state.

But Weinberg talked about something else when she was asked why Clinton is qualified: She’s a mother, grandmother, wife "who has had bumps in her marriage – all those things shaped her. That is a whole dimension that will add to her presidency," Weinberg said.

And a woman as commander-in-chief? Clinton has been criticized from the left for being too hawkish and from the right for being too soft on ISIS. Some have said they believe that Clinton, as a woman, had to be aggressive on foreign policy, because she otherwise would have been automatically dismissed as too soft.

Weinberg had a nuanced view: "She will be our commander-in-chief with the prime responsibility to keep us all safe. Her female side will conduct those responsibilities with great care."

So she is eagerly awaiting Thursday night’s speech by the nominee and plans to work hard for her election in the fall, even though New Jersey is pretty reliably Democratic in presidential races.

“I’ve been waiting for this all my life, and I’m actually seeing it happen," she said. "Amazing."

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