When the Illusion of Privacy Is Gone

I never considered myself a private person.

By nature, I am fiercely proud of who I am, where I come from, and what I stand for, and with that often comes a lack of concern about who holds what information about me. It’s my general rule that if you ask me a question, you’ll get an honest and oftentimes thorough answer—I am quick to share what I am thinking, what I want, what I like (or dislike), etc.

Given all of this, I felt no adjustment would be needed to transition into the realm of public service. If I had very little that needed to be kept private, why would I worry that being the public eye would be uncomfortable in any way?

All this said, there is nothing that could have prepared me for being thrown into the very public eye on a regular basis. And, although I have thankfully not reached J-Lo celebrity-esque status, where I would be recognized walking down the street, in some ways my words and actions are even more public. While celebrities or other non-government “public” figures always run the risk of having private conversations or outings made public through sightings or a betrayal of confidence, it is a given that my words and actions and all of my communications belong to the public. Every meeting I attend for city council is public record, and often is recorded. Anyone can ask for a copy of any email, text, or message that I send regarding city matters, and it will be provided to them. And, of course, my social media posts are analyzed by hundreds or thousands of people — many of whom have never even met me.

Once I got past the initial shock of having my words and my actions scrutinized by everyone — those who like me, those who hate me, and those who are still deciding — I realized there is something oddly freeing about not having the illusion of privacy. There is no game of telephone or he said/she said: if you want to know what I said, play back the livestream. There is no private email that is accidentally sent to the wrong person: I always assume the person I least want to read my words will be requesting to see them, as is their right. Someone in public office truly has to own who they are, what they do, and what they say. This is no place for someone who wishes to paint their image with stories and good PR.

Once you are elected, you are judged simply by your actions and your words, which once spoke are public record and can be pulled up at any time. There is little explanation or spin to be had.

Though jarring at times to have to vote or take action with no private discussion, what better way is there to prove what you stand for? Do you want to know who I am? Watch how I vote. Listen to what I say — because what I say to you, I say to everyone else at the same time. If all of us were judged only on our actions, and we were held accountable to the words we speak, perhaps we would all have to think before we speak, act honestly and with our true intentions laid bare, and maybe just maybe, be a little kinder to one another.

About the Author
Cheryl Rosenberg lives in Englewood, NJ where she is a councilmember representing Ward 1 and a member of Kehilat Kesher Synagogue. Cheryl is the senior director of marketing and communications for Prizmah: Center for Jewish day Schools and is the immediate past president of Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. She is an executive board member of Teach NJS, a leadership councilmember of the Jewish New Teach Project, a recent graduate of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program, and a long-time activist in the areas of civil liberties, equality, and women’s rights.