Embattled state official fights to keep her job

Jennifer Storm

Jennifer R. Storm, an out lesbian who has served as the state’s Victim Advocate for the past seven years, is battling to keep her job. Storm is believed to be the highest-ranking out lesbian in Pennsylvania state government.

Storm, 45, oversees supportive services for crime victims statewide. Her annual salary is $133,028. For the past year, she’s endeavored to be reappointed for another six-year term. But on Nov. 16, in a 32-18 vote, her reappointment was rejected by the state Senate.

Five Democrat senators voted against Storm. They are: Andrew E. Dinniman (Chester Co.), Art Haywood (Philadelphia), Daylin B. Leach (Montgomery), Sharif T. Street (Philadelphia) and Anthony H. Williams (Philadelphia). 

In press interviews, Storm said her chief nemesis is state Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), the highest-ranking member of the chamber. Storm said Scarnati has a “political vendetta” against her, largely due to her efforts on behalf of clergy-abuse survivors. Storm and Scarnati have clashed on legislative reforms requested by survivors, which Scarnati opposes. “His sights were set on me and he was intent on destroying my career and reputation,” Storm said. “So far, we’ll see.”

Storm was asked by PGN if her LGBT status plays a role in Scarnati’s enmity. She didn’t rule out the possibility — noting that Scarnati hasn’t supported LGBT-inclusive hate crimes legislation nor an LGBT-inclusive antibias law. Storm is a staunch supporter of those measures, which have languished in committees. 

Storm also expressed her opinion that Scarnati has issues with assertive women, noting that he’s refused to meet with her despite multiple attempts on her part.

Scarnati couldn’t be reached for comment. A spokesperson for Scarnati denied that his opposition to Storm’s reappointment was motivated in any manner by sexism or homophobia. 

On Nov. 16, Scarnati disclosed on the Senate floor that Storm is under investigation by the state Ethics Commission. Storm called the ethics investigation a “sham.” She said the probe involves “allegations that I accepted money from Marsy’s Law [supporters] which I’ve never done — and that I used my [victim-advocate] position inappropriately to benefit my documentary [produced in 2018], which I never did.” 

Storm said she’s made all of her financial records available to the Ethics Commission and expects to be cleared. “I’m not profiting in a way that’s inappropriate,” she added. “I’m an incredibly honest and forthright person. If I made a mistake on some type of a document, I will surely rectify that. But I have nothing to hide.”

Scarnati also blasted Storm for supporting a commutation for Felix Rosado, a convicted murderer who’s been incarcerated since 1996 — without consulting the victim’s family. But Storm stood by her decision to support Rosado, noting that she feels “passionate about rehabilitation and redemption.”

She said Rosado’s bid for release is meritorious. “[Rosado] has done every single rehabilitative thing that you can conceivably request of someone to do,” Storm said. “And I believe he had an excellent plan to return to — and do good work in — his community.”

State Sen. Sharif T. Street, one of five Democrats who voted against Storm, argued that she has neglected inner-city crime victims. “I don’t believe she speaks for all victims,” Street said, shortly before the Senate vote.  “When I was at the funeral of Walter Wallace [Jr.], who was shot and killed on videotape — that family didn’t hear from Jen Storm. At least, she wasn’t at the funeral when I was there.” 

Street expressed his opinion that Storm doesn’t care about inner-city crime victims. “Jen Storm is prepared to respond to sexual assaults that happen in the suburbs,” Street added. “But when people are murdered in the streets of Philadelphia, when people are murdered in my district, Jen Storm hasn’t been there. She doesn’t care.”

For her part, Storm insisted she cares deeply about all crime victims. “We have 32 organizations in the city of Philadelphia whose sole responsibility is to respond to homicides,” she explained. “I meet with them on a monthly basis to ensure coordination of service, to make sure things are trauma-informed. We have created new partnerships [and] innovative grants that made it possible for every homicide survivor to receive an advocate at their door within 72 hours.” 

Storm added: “What [Street] is saying is illogical. He thinks I should be in Philadelphia responding to homicides. And I can’t do that.” 

Storm said she’ll continue to serve as the state’s “acting” Victim Advocate until further notice. A spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf said in an email: “The governor is very disappointed that the Senate voted this nomination [of Storm] down without even the benefit of a hearing to consider her qualifications. As far as next steps, we are reviewing the options in light of the Senate’s vote.”

As of presstime, Wolf hadn’t nominated a replacement. The state Senate is recessed until January 2021, which would be the earliest the Senate could vote on a replacement for Storm.

State Sen. Art Haywood praised Storm’s accomplishments, though he voted against her reappointment. 

“Jennifer Storm is to be commended for her advocacy for victims of child abuse, sexual abuse, and violence,” Haywood said, in an email. “She stood up to the Catholic Church, legislators, and others with courage and conviction. Compromise legislation to address the horrendous abuse has been adopted. At the same time, I have received numerous serious complaints about her responses to gun-violence victims and urban-crime victims — from victims and leaders of organizations with these survivors.”

Haywood added: “Gun violence is at a crisis in certain neighborhoods in my district and across Philadelphia. Ending gun violence must be a priority today. The victims injured from shootings far exceed the homicides. All victims count. Advocacy programs for these survivors are desperately needed. Gun violence, the survivors of gun and urban violence, and the survivor community must be a top priority for the Office of Victim Advocate. Jennifer Storm has done tremendous work. But we need new leadership now, to make this priority real.”