POLITICS
07/31/2013 04:04 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

Jose Arango, New Jersey GOP Leader, Compares Female Lt. Gov. Candidate To His Secretary

AP

A county Republican Party chairman in New Jersey had some harsh words this week for Hispanic labor leader Milly Silva, the newly tapped running mate of the state's Democratic candidate for governor.

“Poor thing,” Jose Arango, the chairman, said of Silva, who is the executive vice president of labor union SEIU 1199. “It’s like picking my secretary. She’s a very nice person. The union likes her, but even in the union she’s vice president. She hasn’t been a committeewoman."

Arango added, "It’s like the guy in CVS with no expertise who suddenly gets promoted to pharmacist. It’s like the guy saying, ‘I work at CVS, I can be the pharmacist.'"

Silva is relative unknown in New Jersey politics, but she has a long history of organizing immigrant workers, women, minorities and low-income wage earners. She graduated from Columbia University, becoming the first in her family to hold a college degree, and is now a leader of an organization that represents the health care workers at 7,000 nursing homes. Barbara Buono, the Democratic nominee for governor, presumably tapped Silva as her running mate to energize female and minority voters and unionized workers.

While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) stopped short of comparing Silva to a secretary, his reaction to her candidacy was similarly dismissive. “I never heard of her until this weekend,” Christie said, according to Politicker New Jersey. “I hope she has time to vote in a gubernatorial campaign, unlike last time.” (Silva did not vote in the 2009 election, which Buono's campaign says is because she was busy "helping thousands of other New Jerseyans get to the polls.")

Buono slammed Arango in a statement on Wednesday. "Jose Arango's wildly sexist statements are an insult to accomplished women everywhere who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect," she said.

"Milly Silva has worked since the age of 14 to lift herself out of poverty and risen to become an executive overseeing thousands of workers and multi-million dollar contracts," she added. "I urge Governor Christie to demand the immediate resignation of Jose Arango and make clear such outrageous attacks have no place in his campaign. And the next time Mr. Arango thinks about demeaning a woman's achievement, maybe he'll remember the mothers and sisters and daughters across New Jersey who deserve better than his condescension and disrespect.”

EMILY's List, a group dedicated to electing progressive women to office, sought to tie the comments to Christie's record on women's issues.

"Chris Christie and his campaign have dismissed the Buono-Silva ticket’s outstanding qualifications with unprecedented disrespect," said EMILY's List press secretary Marcy Stech. "But what’s worse than these words is that Gov. Christie has been dismissive of New Jersey women with his actions. From vetoing equal pay to blocking access to women’s health clinics to putting New Jersey’s economy on the back burner, time and time again, Chris Christie is out-of-touch with working families."

The Buono campaign later released a letter signed by 16 state legislators and nine party leaders, all women, asking Christie to join them in opposing Arango.

"We ask you to join us in condemning Jose Arango’s misogynistic comments and call for his resignation," wrote the group, which includes the state Senate majority leader and Senate president pro tempore. "Statements like this cannot be a part of this campaign and demean all women in the state of New Jersey."

A spokesman for Christie did not return HuffPost's request for comment.

Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who is one of four Democrats running in an August special primary election for U.S. Senate, released a separate statement through her campaign.

“Jose Arango’s comments are dismissive, sexist and completely inappropriate and he owes Milly Silva an apology along with the millions of women in New Jersey that he just belittled," Oliver said. "Sadly this kind of backward thinking is rampant in the Republican Party in our state and throughout the country and it underscores the need for strong women to continue pushing forward into elected office at all levels of government. I applaud Barbara Buono for choosing Milly as her running mate because it will inspire young women throughout our state to consider a career in public service despite what men like Mr. Arango might want.”

Arango released a statement Wednesday evening saying his comments weren't based on Silva's gender, but rather her qualifications. In the statement, which contained many typos, Arango noted that he backed former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R), New Jersey's first woman governor, during her two successful elections in the 1990s.

Arango said:

I apologize if I said anything incorrect ly or that was interpreted as disrespectful in any way .Ms Silva's gender has nothing to do with her lack of qualifications for the office of Lt Governor . She is unqualified for many reasons , mostly her absence of goverment experience or even interest on voting. As a latino I take the democratic process as a serious act and a great privilege , but her gender in no way factors into the equation.I will take this moment to remind Ms. Buono that I supported Gov. Christie Whitman more than 20 yrs ago and many women in elected office .Again Ms. Silva is in no way qualified to serve as a Lt. Governor but never did I intended to suggest it hss anything to with her gender.

This story has been updated with additional reactions to Arango's comments and with Arango's statement. John Celock contributed reporting.

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