Politics

What This GOP Congressman Cost a Woman Has People Absolutely Enraged

May 16th 2017

By:
Mike Rothschild

New Jersey's most powerful member of the House, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, has been publicly shamed for writing a letter to a constituent's employer.

The woman claims the letter cost her a job. 

To raise funds for what will likely be a close-run 2018 campaign, the Republican wrote a letter to local donors decrying the "organized forces — both national and local — who are already hard at work to put a stop to an agenda of limited government, economic growth, stronger national security."

One of those letters, sent to Lakeland Bank board member Joseph O'Dowd, included an asterisk over the word "local," with a handwritten note reading: "P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!” The letter also contained a news clipping quoting Saily Avelenda, Lakeland Bank senior vice president and assistant general counsel who is also a member of progressive activist group NJ 11th for Change.

Once the letter and its aftermath went public, the reaction from both national media and local voters was swift and brutal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frelinghuysen represents a wealthy suburban district being targeted by Democrats in the 2018 midterms. As such, he's been dogged by the efforts of NJ 11th for Change. The 7,000-strong group has held a town hall without Frelinghuysen (he hasn't held one in four years), made regular visits to both his Washington, D.C., and local office, and jammed his phone lines with calls.

As a result of the congressman's letter to her boss, Avelanda was questioned about her activities with the group, had to write a statement to her CEO, and ultimately resigned.

“I thought my Congressman put [the bank] in a situation, and put me in a really bad situation as the constituent," she told WNYC, "and used his name, used his position and used his stationery to try to punish me.”

 

 

 

 

The congressman might not have broken the law technically, since the letter didn't directly threaten Avelanda and wasn't on Congressional stationary. But as a director for non-partisan watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) told WNYC, Frelinghuysen could face punishment in a number of ways.

"There ought to be an investigation,” Melanie Sloan of CREW told the Washington Post, referencing the House Ethics Committee's role in oversight of elected officials. Beyond that, she believes Avelanda could sue Frelinghuysen, and that the letter was an abuse of power.

 

 

The congressman, whose office didn't respond to a request for comment from ATTN:, addressed the issue in a statement to WNYC that claimed he "wrote a brief and innocuous note at the bottom of a personal letter in regard to information that had been reported in the media. He was in no way involved in any of the bank's business and is unaware of any of the particulars about this employee's status with the bank.”

However, a potential opponent for Frelinghuysen in 2018, former Navy pilot Mikie Sherill, took the chance to hit back at the incident.

 

 

She issued a statement that read, in part, that Frelinghuysen "has gone from simply refusing to meet with his constituents and telling them to ‘back off,’ to threatening constituents who are exercising their freedom of speech."