NJEA’s Toxic Strategy Against Steve Sweeney

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Those following New Jersey education politics are probably aware that NJEA, in a confounding lapse of judgement, has declared Senator Steve Sweeney Public Enemy #1. (See here for background.) If one were measuring NJEA leaders’ level of vindictiveness towards the long-time Senate President, it would be higher than Reince Priebus’ blood pressure. Why? Because in 2011 the Senator shepherded through the Legislature a health benefits/pension reform bill and last year refused to bring to the Senate floor a poorly-conceived amendment that would bankrupt the state by forcing it to make “full” pension payments to a system about to collapse from its own corpulence.

NJEA leaders are so pissed that they just endorsed Sweeney’s GOP challenger Fran Grenier who stands for everything they despise, including his support for abolishing N.J.’s progressive school funding formula. And they are copiously spending member dues to defeat Sweeney in November.

But Sweeney isn’t rolling over. On Friday the Observer reported the formation of a new PAC called  New Jerseyans for a Better Tomorrow that refers to the central office union leaders as “a group of millionaire Trenton lobbyists.”

The article continues,

Democrats and other union leaders aligned with Sweeney say it’s extraordinary that eight top NJEA officials each earned from $1.7 million to $3.7 million in salary and benefits over a six-year period, according to tax records.

Here’s a few examples from NJEA’s 990 tax forms (including benefits):

  • Vince Giordano, former Executive Director of NJEA, made $623,000 per year.
  • Zella Felzenberg, current regional services director, makes $507,000 per year.
  • Ed Richardson, current Executive Director of NJEA, makes $457,000 per year
  • Barbara Keshishian, former president, made $398,000 per year.
  • Ginger Gold Schnitzer, current lobbyist, makes $365,000 per year
  • Timothy McGuckin, business administrator, makes $361,000 per year.
  • Marie Blistan, NJEA’s vice president, makes $281,000 per year.

The Observer quotes Bill Mullen, president of the New Jersey State Building and Construction Trades Council: “They just want to hold politicians hostage and hold the public hostage and they’re doing an injustice to their membership.” Mullen concludes that NJEA’s strategy is too dumb to win over intelligent teachers. “The rank-and-file teachers that have liberal Democratic views are not going to vote for this Republican because the leadership of the teachers union wants to hold Steve Sweeney hostage.”

I think that’s a fair assessment. The Observer notes that “Sweeney has earned the loyalty of all but a few members of the Democratic caucus and perhaps the most progressive member of the Senate, Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen). Allies note that Sweeney is a seasoned lawmaker and negotiator who often gets important Democratic policy proposals on health care, gun control, criminal justice, environmental and social issues past the finish line.”

The late Carrie Fisher said, “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. ” Doesn’t sound like much of a game plan for New Jersey’s spiteful teacher union leaders or the members they presume to represent.

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