The slate backed by the city’s Democratic mayor, Chris Bollwage, and State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, roundly defeated the slate backed by the union. Really dumb move, EEA, one that will redound to the disadvantage of the membership. What teacher in his/her right mind could support folks who backed Chris Christie?
The lawns in my neighborhood are predictably dotted with political signs promoting the two slates for three school board seats. One slate is backed by Elizabeth’s Democratic mayor, Chris Bollwage, and state Sen. Ray Lesniak who also is running (probably) for governor. The other is backed by an organization created years ago by the late Thomas Dunn, a former mayor; it has a majority on the school board now. Both sides claim to be Democrats because Republicans are rare in Elizabeth. The Dunn group, however, has consistently endorsed Republican politicians for statewide and national office, including, yes, Gov. Chris Christie.
It’s a long-standing feud. The oddest part of it this year is the open and aggressive position of the Elizabeth Education Association (EEA), a local of the New Jersey Education Association—in favor of the crypto-Republican slate.
Tour Elizabeth and, anywhere you see the green and black signs for what is generally called the “Continue the Progress Team” slate, you will also see political signs for the Elizabeth Education Association. Indeed, the EEA/NJEA sent out mailings promoting the candidates.
The connection goes back years. At one time, the late Dennis Giordano, then a former NJEA president and a paid organizer for other state unions, became principal of Elizabeth High School with the support, obviously of the school board, but also of the EEA. He was the brother of Vincent Giordano, until recently, the NJEA’s executive director.
When I asked Vincent about the EEA’s love for Christie backers on the school board, he shrugged and said, “It’s complicated.”
Pushed by the EEA, the NJEA tried to dump Lesniak, a Democratic power-broker for decades—theoretically because he favored private school vouchers. That did not stop the NJEA from endorsing Cory Booker for the US Senate—Booker is New Jersey’s most prominent champion of privately-operated, publicly-funded voucher and charter schools whose legacy in Newark has been devastating for the children there.
The statewide union somehow forgot that Lesniak bucked the Democratic senate leadership to vote against “pension reform.”
The great, rotund face of Christie has smiled warmly on his friends on the EEA-backed board, providing all sorts of state money to build new schools—money he denied to Newark and other cities—and he has not allowed charter schools to open in the city. Christie also has found state jobs for some of the loyal, if politically unsuccessful, members of his–and the union’s–team in Elizabeth.
What a combination—Christie and the NJEA, perfect together.