The May 12th Concatenations of Montclair Mayoral Politics

A Spiller sign

MONTCLAIR – When you’re running for mayor, it helps to have a villain to attack.  And it makes no difference who and where the villain is.

Sean Spiller knows that. A recent mailing by Spiller goes after the Sunlight Policy Center of New Jersey, a conservative public interest group that recently suggested  Spiller’s full-time job as vice president of the New Jersey Education Association would pose a major conflict if he became mayor.

In Montclair, the mayor appoints school board members; in many other towns they are elected.

With the May 12 election less than a week away, a Spiller Facebook post in response warns that a “right wing, pro-charter school group is trying to influence our local election in Montclair. Don’t let this
right wing group have its way.”

Interestingly,  Spiller is attacking an outside group, not his mayoral opponent, Dr. Renee Baskerville.

The mailing in question says the Sunlight Policy Center is a “neo-conservative” organization with ties to Chris Christie and Dick Cheney.

Former Governor Christie and the NJEA long have been at odds, which is an understatement. Recall when the then-governor said teachers were using students as “drug mules?”  The comment had to do with schools sending parents school budget information via students.

The Sunlight Policy Center is not staying silent about Spiller’s mailing.

Montclair sign
Montclair sign


It fired off another release saying it was formed after Cheney and Christie left office, is not pro-charter school and denying support for “neo-conservative” positions.  And the release snidely asked if Spiller even knows what the term means.

For the record, the political label, “neo-conservative,” came into vogue as a description for one-time liberals who supported U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, mostly in the Bush years.

Around now, it’s meaningful to cast some light on the Sunlight Policy Center.

Its mission statement proclaims a goal of “informing New Jersey citizens of the facts behind our state’s dysfunctional status quo and advocating for policy solutions that put New Jersey back on the path to future prosperity.”

All that sounds pretty high minded, but when you scan its website, the NJEA – and only the NJEA – is blamed for most of the state’s fiscal woes. It sure looks like the group’s sunlight doesn’t travel very far.

Spiller has said by the way that if elected mayor, he will appoint independent, school board members and that he understands the need for fiscal discipline.

In the area perhaps of unintended consequences, another part of Spiller’s mailing is also drawing attention.

In contrasting himself to the “right wing” Sunlight Policy Center, Spiller says he is a supporter of Barack Obama, Phil Murphy and a member of the Montclair Democratic Committee. None of this is earth
shattering stuff in liberal Montclair, but there is a slight problem.

Like all May elections in the state, next week’s election in Montclair is officially non-partisan. But here is one candidate proudly talking about his political affiliation.

Baskerville doesn’t think that’s right.

She said in a phone conversation today that she supports non-partisan government because it is welcoming to all residents.

“I believe in our form of government,” Baskerville said. “I want to adhere to that until it’s changed.”

She said that if Spiller wanted a partisan form of government, he could have tried to make a change during his time on the council.

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