The 25-year history of state control of local school districts is a narrative of an unworkable and poorly planned idea that, while initially promoted with good intentions, has been transformed into a deliberate effort to suppress both the voting rights of minority men and women and the employment rights of public employees with the intent of helping the political and personal fortunes of the most powerful white men in the state, including Gov. Chris Christie, heir apparent Steve Sweeney, and political boss George Norcross III and members of his family.
With the effort by the Christie/Sweeney/Norcross junta to turn Atlantic City into a proprietary colony of the powerful in Trenton and Cherry Hill, the idea of state control of local minority communities has taken a giant step toward ending democracy for the black and the brown and poor in the city.
The joint statement by the Atlantic City NAACP and the New Jersey ACLU captures most of the problem:
“The proposal being pushed forward by Governor Christie and Senate President Sweeney for the State to take over the operations and finances of Atlantic City raises serious concerns for the civil rights and civil liberties of Atlantic City residents.
“A cornerstone of our democracy is the right of the people to elect their local government and to ensure, through the ballot box and public participation, that it is accountable to the people. While we have no doubt that elected officials on both sides of this debate want to prevent Atlantic City from falling into bankruptcy, we urge lawmakers to address this crisis without abandoning basic democratic principles of accountable and open government.
“The Governor’s and Senate President’s plan would essentially dissolve local government by providing the State of New Jersey with the authority to dismantle any of Atlantic City’s municipal authorities or contracts, and veto any City Council vote. The State would be able to overturn and rewrite old ordinances, and it could institute entirely new city laws. State overseers would have powers to work in greater secrecy, sidestepping our open meeting laws and keeping the public in the dark.
“We hope that lawmakers from all factions across the state will come together, see beyond politics, and reach a compromise. Nothing less than the fundamental rights of Atlantic City residents and the integrity of our democratic system of government is at stake here.”
What happened in Newark and other state-seized school districts predicts what will happen in Atlantic City and other minority communities. After more than two decades of state control, the schools did not markedly improve. However, the Christie administration used its power over the state’s largest school system to promote privatization of public schools, the decimation of teacher and other school employee unions, and the enhancement of his personal power over the future of Newark’s people. Yes, Ras Baraka was elected mayor but his promise to improve public education was rendered meaningless by the deal he made with Christie.
With his allies in the Norcross family, Christie expanded the suppression of rights in minority communities by expanding state control in Camden–not just over the school system, but also over the police department as well, to say nothing of institutions of higher education and health care. Follow the money leading to where the Norcross family does its banking.
Now the metastasizing of this cancer may spread to all aspects of democracy in Atlantic City. Forgetting that it was the work of rich, white casino operators who helped destroy the city’s economy–including Christie’s new pal, Donald Trump–the Christie, Sweeney/Norcross axis of greed and ambition wants to turn that city into a powerless political ghetto where, as the NAACP/ACLU statement rightly argues, the most fundamental civil rights and civil liberties will be denied to residents and public employees.
In the New Jersey run by Chris Christie, Steve Sweeney, and George Norcross, members of minority groups are petty inconveniences to be disregarded–and public employees are enemies to be destroyed.
They are able to impose their will on the less powerful because of the divisions they created in the state, arguing to suburban audiences that urban residents are incapable of governing themselves–and that the needs of public employees who work for a living are somehow dishonorable. Unlike the selfishness of the rich and powerful who drive mega-hotels and casinos into the dust pursuing their own greed.
The Christie/Sweeney/Norcross bill will destroy democracy and public employee rights in Atlantic City while enriching Christie and his greedy cartel.