Democratic Senate Allies of Sweeney Fire off a Defiant Letter to NJEA Prez

Insider NJ's Fred Snowflack discusses Gov. Phil Murphy's reluctance to apply pressure to Democrats in the NJ Legislature in order to get the programs and legislation he wants supported and how it is hurting Murphy's administration.

Sixteen senators sent a letter to New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) President Marie Blistan urging her “to end [her] misguided assault against” Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).

The NJEA continues to pour money into LD3 in support of Republican candidate Fran Grenier in defiance of Sweeney.

The letter appears in its entirety below…

The undersigned legislators sent this letter to the NJEA President today

Dear President Blistan:

We are writing to you as Democratic legislators and long-time supporters of public
education. It’s inconceivable to us that the NJEA is supporting Republican extremist Fran
Grenier, an avowed ally of Chris Christie and Donald Trump, both of whom have demonized
teachers and unions throughout their political careers. Carrying out this vendetta against
Senate President Steve Sweeney can only have damaging consequences for our party, our next
governor Phil Murphy, the state and the NJEA.

For the last eight years we have opposed most of Gov. Christie’s regressive, anti-
education agenda. We have fought against his misguided plan to divert money from the
neediest school districts, which would lead to massive teacher layoffs. And we have stood with
you in condemning his unconscionable demonization of teachers. That’s why we find it
appalling that you would support someone who so enthusiastically champions Christie’s policies
that he helped run Christie’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire.

Fran Grenier has assailed teachers and other public employees as overpaid and selfish.
He has scapegoated them for high taxes and excessive state spending. And he has demeaned
them by falsely claiming that being paid with public money made them “tax users – not tax
payers.” Grenier supported Christie’s school funding plan, which would have flattened
education aid, forced massive teacher layoffs and cut school aid for the most impoverished
children in our state. Your predecessor, Wendell Steinhauer, called the plan Grenier supports
“despicable” and “a huge step backwards to the days when poor families in economically
challenged communities were left to fend for themselves.”

What’s more, Grenier didn’t object when his runningmate in this year’s campaign called
teachers and other public workers “union parasites.” He even voted against compensating
police, firefighters and other first responders suffering from potentially life-threatening
illnesses while on the job. And Grenier avidly supports Kim Guadagno for governor, even
though she spent eight years promoting Christie’s agenda and is running against your own
endorsed candidate, Phil Murphy.

As Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran put it this week:

“Grenier is not the sort you’d expect to win union support. He is an arch-conservative
who says he supports Trump’s agenda, and was so enthusiastic about Christie’s campaign that
he dropped everything to work for him in New Hampshire. He denies climate science.

“His knowledge of state issues, including education, is flimsy. He told The Philadelphia
Inquirer that that each town should get the same level of state aid per student, regardless of its
wealth, the core of an awful plan put forward by Christie last year. That would force massive
teacher layoffs in urban districts like Newark, which would have to cut its budget by more than
half. He now claims he was misquoted, but won’t say if he asked for a correction at the time.”

While your candidate promotes polices and people that are anathema to your union,
Senator Sweeney has been a steadfast advocate for the principles you claim to support. He
championed the bill to mandate quarterly state payments into the public employee pension
system. And he was the driving force behind this summer’s agreement to provide full and fair
funding for all New Jersey schools, leveling the playing field for those that have been woefully
underfunded. Senator Sweeney also is pushing to expand Pre-K funding throughout the state;
supported the “Building Our Future Bond Act” that provided resources that expanded
educational facilities for the first time in two decades; has championed the developmentally
disabled and led the fight to ensure that children with special needs are not discriminated
against in public education; and stood up to Gov. Christie to kill a plan that would have slashed
funding from our neediest school districts and caused massive teacher layoffs.

We understand that you have had differences with Senator Sweeney, but how can that
possibly justify endorsing and funding a candidate who stands for everything your members
oppose? How can you tell your members that more than $7.5 million of their dues is financing a
Christie/Trump Republican over a Democrat who has been a longtime friend of education? Even
your predecessor, Wendell Steinhauer, and your other colleagues on the executive team at
times negotiated with the Christie administration to achieve common ground on education
issues – no different from what you accuse Steve Sweeney of doing.

Your allies in the labor movement recognize Senator Sweeney as a tireless advocate for
both public and private-sector workers. The American Federation of Teachers, which represents
teachers in some of the state’s neediest districts, supports his candidacy. Among others
supporting him are: the AFL-CIO; New Jersey State Building and Construction Trades Council;
United Food and Commercial Workers; United Auto Workers; American Federation of State,
County & Municipal Employees Council 73; UNITE Here Local 54 (hotel, restaurant and casino
workers); Health Professionals and Allied Employees; Service Employees International Union,
New Jersey State Council; Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy; State Senate
Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg; Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez; former Gov.
Jim Florio; and those of us signing this letter.

The consequences of your actions in the 3rd District cannot be overstated. Your
investment in Grenier’s campaign jeopardizes our party’s effort to gain Senate and Assembly
seats in districts such as 2, 11 and 16, where the Democratic candidates would be a solid vote
for your priorities. By pursuing what the Star-Ledger called a campaign of lies and distortions
against Senator Sweeney, you are forcing us to divert millions of dollars to defend him, denying
precious resources to our candidates – your candidates – in targeted districts. To put it bluntly,
the millions you’re spending on behalf of Fran Grenier is preventing us from spending money
on candidates your own PAC has endorsed. The NJEA’s actions contradict your promise and
ours to teachers throughout New Jersey to fight for their best interests, especially in the face of
politicians unfriendly to education like Donald Trump, Chris Christie and Fran Grenier.

In January we can finally turn the page on the Christie Christie era in favor of a more
progressive one that benefits our children, our schools and our state. Why would you want to
waste that opportunity by electing Christie allies like Fran Grenier, who demonizes teachers and
would lay off thousands of your own members?

Our state faces many difficult challenges in the years ahead. Like you, we all support Phil
Murphy for governor and believe he will work with us to make New Jersey a better and more
affordable place to live. We urge you in the strongest terms not to make his task any harder by
sending another extremist Republican to Trenton – a Republican who traffics in character
assassination against teachers and other public workers and who has already declared his
intention to support teacher layoffs and school-funding cuts. In an election when we can add
more like-minded legislators to our caucus in Trenton, there is no excuse for sending politicians
like that to the state Senate.

Make no mistake: Steve Sweeney will be reelected and remain Senate President. We
urge you to end your misguided assault against him and join with us in working to expand our
majorities in the State Senate and Assembly. To do otherwise could cost our party legislative
seats and support for its agenda – while forcing the Murphy administration to begin with a
divided Democratic Party. For the sake of New Jersey’s children and teachers, don’t put petty
personal differences ahead of public education.


Senator Jeff Van Drew
Senator Fred Madden
Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez
Senator James Beach
Senator Linda Greenstein
Senator Bob Smith
Senator Patrick Diegnan
Senator Joseph Vitale
Senator Nicholas Scutari
Senator Teresa Ruiz
Senator Sandra Cunningham
Senator Brian Stack
Senator Nellie Pou
Senator Loretta Weinberg
Senator Robert Gordon
Senator Paul Sarlo

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11 responses to “Democratic Senate Allies of Sweeney Fire off a Defiant Letter to NJEA Prez”

  1. “He championed the bill to mandate quarterly state payments into the public employee pension

    system.” This was after he killed the referendum. Possibly (we’ll never know) he was correct on the strategy there, but that still means that he went back on his word. Somebody who reneges on their word is a liar.
    “…he was the driving force behind this summer’s agreement to provide full and fair

    funding for all New Jersey schools, leveling the playing field for those that have been woefully

    underfunded.” This agreement was given a ringing endorsement by Phil Murphy who said “It’s better than nothing”. However, Murphy took a position contrary to Sweeney’s when he committed to “Restoring and funding the only school funding formula that has been upheld by the Supreme Court”. So we finally had a fair formula and Sweeney conspired to scuttle it.
    Sweeney continues to sit on the no-brainer PARCC bill, which would reverse the NJBOE decision to make the PARCC a graduation requirement despite their lack of legislative authority to do so.

    Whatever you can say about Grenier, one fact is most important – he is not going to be the Chair of the Senate Education Committee with the power to kill popular legislation if he is elected.

  2. It is good to see legislators stand up to the ” bully” NJEA leadership and call them out for supporting a anti-teacher candidate who stands against everything that rank and file teachers support.

    This anti-Sweeney quest is simply a personal vendetta ,using members money, initiated by the leadership of the Trenton based NJEA. Shame on them for using other peoples money for their personal use.

    LD3 teachers, who know and have worked with Sweeney ,ARE IN FULL SUPPORT OF HIM ,as is EVERY other Union .

    What makes NJEA leaders right and all other unions wrong?

    On November 7 Sweeney will win and the NJEA leadership will need to answer to its membership about the money it wasted on this vendetta.

    • And on November 8, Sweeney will have to decide if he wants to fight against the teachers next cycle too … or do a much better job promoting the interests of educators. More important, any Democrat who *isn’t* Sweeney is going to be asking themselves the exact same question … for as long as Democrats have solid control of government.

      Sweeney broke deals. If the union is just going sit by and let someone break their deals without consequence there isn’t much point in being represented by a union, now is there? They needed to send a message.

      • Sweeney does not fight against the teachers ,he disagrees with the NJEA leadership which is out of touch with the people they represent.

        Check the fat cat salaries!

        The NJEA leadership has stolen membership money on a personal vendetta against Sweeney, they will have to answer for that to their membership.

        NJEA leadership is an embarrassment to public sector unions.

        • The top salary is a bit over the $500K mark … that’s not exactly riding around in a Rolls Royce and slurping caviar. Hell, that’s actually right at the income level where taxes are the most brutal – too much for the middle-class breaks, not nearly enough for the millionaire ones.

          We’ll see how the members feel in the long run. I’m not seeing a lot of complaints. NJ will be 100% Democrat controlled for the foreseeable future. If unions just roll over for any Democrat no matter what, they’ll end up in a position little different than the one they are in now.

  3. “Senator Sweeney has been a steadfast advocate for the principles you claim to support”? Many of my educator colleagues differ. Steve Sweeney is no supporter of my mostly female profession. Sweeney in partnership with Christie has time and time again caused direct harm to my educator colleagues. They have lost homes, declared bankruptcy and have been unable to afford prescriptions for themselves and children. He did not have the spine to challenge Christie in the ’13 election and he couldn’t fully support the woman who did. The fact that other democrats refuse to acknowledge the attacks on my colleagues as substantive, demonstrates how dysfunctional and the fear of the Norcross machine politics has spread. But the working people of NJ deserve better. They need better. Fran Grenier is not a perfect candidate but he is what New Jersey needs now.

    • I have never heard of People on the Health Benefit plan not being able to pay for prescriptions.


      Did costs go up,yes, of course, but the Health Benefit plan for government workers is still one of the best in the country.

      I have also NEVER heard any accusation that Senator Sweeney is ” anti-female” . This is clearly a made up lie by the NJEA leadership .

      Fran Grenier a friend of the ” working people”? Any proof? The man has never stood up for anything except himself. He even got kicked out of his own union.

  4. Do these salaries look like the salaries of representatives of ” the working people”?

    Here is a list of the ” elite” NJEA leadership:
    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.



    • Those salaries are what Americans used to call “upper middle class”.

      And considering most executives who hold equivalent positions in equally sized corporations would generally be paid millions … isn’t this actually kind of a bargain?

  5. In my opinion mercenaries rogues are in command of our society; both D & R. Mr. Sweeney you were in my opinion too close to Mr. Christie and he has done much damage. He has not left NJ in better shape than he found it, but much worse. Vested interest are infecting both parties and you seemed to have crossed a border as a democrat; as republicans are not even republicans anymore. Now along with health care education is a mere business…American experiment failed and continues to do so; when your up in the class you simply advance that power position and cease to serve the collective…

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