Teacher’s Union Doesn’t Back Some NJ Legislative Leaders

By John Celock

New Jersey’s teachers union isn’t backing New Jersey’s Democratic Senate president and top Republican lawmakers for reelection.

The New Jersey Education Association state legislative endorsements, released over the weekend, include backing for half of the state’s top legislative leaders but leave off several who have been at odds with the union. This includes Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford), who has long been at odds with the union due to his past support for pension and benefits reform. Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield), who have backed pension and benefits reform, also were not backed.

“As we finally exit the Christie era and work to rebuild our state, it is imperative that we elect pro-public education and pro-public employee candidates,” NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer said in a statement. “NJEA members have always been active participants in the political process, but now more than ever, we all realize the consequences of electing politicians who do not share our priorities or our values.

The endorsements mainly side with Democratic candidates for the state Legislature, but Republican candidates did receive backing, including several in districts where the union left support open ended between both parties. Sweeney’s Republican opponent, Fran Greiner, is backed by the union.

The NJEA has long been at odds with Sweeney and backed his GOP opponent four years ago and was expected to back Greiner in this year’s race.

The NJEA did not issue an endorsement in Kean’s GOP leaning Senate district for either him or his Democratic opponent, Jill LaZare. LaZare has unsuccessfully run for the state Assembly in the same district in the past. The NJEA backed Democrats David Barnett and Lacey Rzeszkowski over Bramnick and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) in the GOP-leaning 21st district, which also includes Kean’s Senate seat.

The NJEA has long been at odds with term-limited Gov. Chris Christie (R) over pension and benefits reform and education policy, including past education budget cuts. Christie did not seek the union’s backing either time he sought the governorship. The NJEA is backing Democrat Phil Murphy over Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in the governor’s race.

The NJEA did back Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Seacacus), Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Voorhees Township) and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) for reelection. Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), who is challenging Prieto for the speakership was backed by the NJEA.

The NJEA endorsed Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Marlene Caride (D-Ridgefield) for reelection, while not endorsing Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) for reelection. Ruiz has been a supporter of Christie’s education policies and charter schools, which has cost her favor with the union. Ruiz is also allied with Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzio (D), who endorsed Christie in the 2013 governor’s race, and has been close to the governor.

No endorsements were made in Ruiz’ district. Ruiz is expected to easily win another term in her Democrat-heavy district.

The NJEA also did not issue an endorsement for powerful Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City) in his Democratic-heavy district. Stack has long been an ally of Christie in the Legislature and endorsed the Republican governor in 2013.