Getting the last laugh Spurned former spokesman writes about life as a Hudson County employee

Although little about Michelle Dupey’s later years as a Hudson County employee seemed funny at the time, in selected details for her new book, she has managed to find ironic justice.

“I’ve been working on this book for over two years,” Dupey said last week.

Dupey served as an assistant press officer in both the executive and legislative branches of Hudson County government for about 12 years.

The book, tentatively titled, “Janiszewski and Me, Imperfect Together,” is a detailed account of Dupey’s years as an employee.

This tell-all story – which has recently attracted the interest of a Canadian publisher – is a yarn that may make some Hudson County officials from that era squirm. The book is not an expose on corruption, but rather a study of how Hudson County government works – or perhaps how it doesn’t.

Before the general public suspected trouble with former Hudson County Robert Janiszewski, Dupey did, she says. Dupey resigned this past September during a federal investigation into political corruption.

Dupey had served as one of his public relations officer from the day he was inaugurated in 1988 until she was unceremoniously transferred out of his office in 1996, after she applied for the job as the county’s top spokesperson.

Dupey, who has been described by several former workers as “a pretty, but naive” woman, admits that she had come into Hudson County government unprepared for the back-stabbing and political and personal shifts that she said appeared to be commonplace there. She was not aware of the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – expectations she was to encounter, she said.

Perhaps to the shock and dismay of county officials, Dupey came out as a lesbian a year after she started working for the county. Later, she modified this, identifying herself as a bisexual. She was to take a lead role in women’s and gay rights in the county, and founded a countywide organization of gay and lesbian employees. She was also a member of the county executive’s commission on women. Over the years Dupey has been named in various volumes of Who’s Who, and was named a Leadership New Jersey Fellow in 1995.

Her sexual liberation came with a price, Dupey said. People began to snicker, and not always behind her back. In a lawsuit against several county officials filed in 1998 (which was settled without assessing blame or guilt in 2000, and without Dupey getting any award), Dupey charged sexual harassment and discrimination against Janiszewski and other county officials.

Dupey claimed she had to battle with sexist co-workers, an all-boys’ club, and snickers and whispers about her sexuality. During the years of allegedly harassment, Dupey kept meticulous notes, detailing perceived offenses, she said. These notes became charges in her lawsuit, and later, when the lawsuit ground to a halt over what she called incompetence by her own attorney, Dupey used these notes to help shape a book.

She said a big part of her life had gone into fighting the suit, and she couldn’t let go of it.

“This book is full of character sketches, and through the writing of the book, I managed to explore the problems females face in the workplace and the issues women face every day,” Dupey said.

The book also deals with the political impact of a person not born in Hudson County when injected into the center of its political heart.

“It has an outsider’s view of the inside,” said Dupey, who grew up in Passaic County.

The book explores the nature of politics as practiced in Hudson County, and reveals its seamier side through anecdotal analysis. The book also provides analysis and commentary about local elections for county executive, sexual harassment, and the 1998 U.S. Supreme Court rulings on sexual harassment, abuse and post traumatic stress disorder, and how being female and openly bisexual affect treatment in the work place.

The 400-page manuscript, which has been sent to a Canadian publisher who requested it after Dupey queried, covers a time period from 1994 to 2000, and not all of the book talks about the bad things she felt happened to her.

She said not all of her time working for the county was painful. Indeed, until 1996, when she sought to get the job as county executive’s spokesperson, she believed she had a fulfilling career, and she can list numerous accomplishments that she did before and after the trouble started. These range from helping the county celebrate its 150th anniversary to a video project called, “What is a freeholder?”

In some ways, her book is about expectations, and how with all the great history in Hudson County, the government failed to live up to hers. The book is anecdotal, about how things work or don’t work in government. “This is based on personal experience, slices of life about the inner workings and what happens in government,” she said.

As in life, this book has “good guys and bad guys,” Dupey said: “The circumstances reveal who they are.”

The book is also about overcoming odds. And despite her troubles over the years, Dupey feels it has a happy ending.

“I never suffered physical abuse, only emotional, but I spent a lot of time dodging poison arrows,” she said. “In retrospect, the story has become something a little absurd. It is full of ironic twists and self-revealing observations.”


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group